Stephen Waguespack | LABI
Fresh off a strong conservative mandate from voters in the fall elections, Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), Louisiana’s state chamber of commerce and manufacturing association, is looking forward to making progress on tort reform when the legislature convenes in March.
“Tort reform is the 800 pound gorilla issue this session,” Waguespack told the Record. “Voters around the state are completely energized. There’s a crisis on our hands here and people are awake to it. So tort reform will be the top issue.”
Another issue Waguespack expects to get a lot of attention in the Louisiana legislature this year is early education. He says many employers are concerned about hiring quality workers and that a solid workforce starts with education well before kindergarten, when children are as young as three and four years old.
“Soft skills” are a critical part of early education that very young children need to learn, Waguespack says. Soft skills are the nonacademic skills students acquire to help them succeed in life. They include social and emotional skills, critical thinking skills, and skills that facilitate positive interactions with others and the ability to overcome challenges.
“What a lot of employers tell us is “Look, you give us a person that can read and write and has good soft skills and stays off drugs….if you give me those four things, we can put those people to work….we can train them to be successful,“ Waguespack said.
Waguespack said that one thing research shows is that when a child drops out of high school, it can be predicted when looking at how well a student fared in the early grades.
“If we do a better job preparing those kids for success in elementary school, we are less likely to lose them in high school,” Waguespack said. “We are more likely to have them prepared for these great technical and professional programs that we are creating in our secondary and post secondary system.
“So it’s really a pipeline effect, if you will. That is why early education is a cause celeb. We need good early education to make sure that this great pipeline that we have created is now going to have the fuel coming through it to be successful.”