With more than $60 billion worth of plant construction projects in progress or on the horizon, Louisiana has a growing need for skilled labor. Yet a recent survey of 22 contractors in the state found nearly half expect to have challenges finding qualified workers in 2016.

Louisiana is two years into a plan to train and recruit nearly 80,000 new skilled workers to serve the construction industry. Louisiana's Craft Workforce Development Task Force estimated in 2014 it would need to replace 51,000 retiring workers add another 35,000 new workers by 2016.

Founded as a joint effort between the Louisiana Economic Development Commission, the Department of Education, and the Louisiana Community & Technical College System, the task force released a 47-page plan to address the state's skilled labor needs. It identified gaps in supply, projected future demand, and laid out a framework to help recruit and train the workforce.

Two years later, Louisiana is making progress. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, says 12 of the state's 13 community and technical colleges are increasing enrollment. Among the careers hiring and paying robust wages in Louisiana are construction, welding and electrical work.

Other construction-related organizations have also been boosting their training efforts. The New Orleans chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors opened a new welding training center and added an additional 10,000 sq ft of classroom and lab space to its campus in St. Rose.

The Central South Carpenters Regional Council also recently opened a $12.5 million, 38,000 sq ft training facility in New Orleans. The new center can train up to 1,000 workers each year, more than twice that of the old facility. CSCRC Executive Secretary Jason Engels says the council is reaching out to former military and to high schools with up to $40,000 in free training.

"There's going to be a strong demand [for carpenters] in our economy in the coming years and we're trying to ensure we have the programs in place," says Engels.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed Louisiana added 4,100 construction jobs in November 2015 to reach a statewide total of 146,600. That's up 3% from the past year and the highest number of people ever employed in construction in Louisiana.

A 2016 Louisiana construction industry forecast by the Associated General Contractors also noted that 39% of construction companies would add workers this year. That's well below the national percentage of 71% of companies expecting to increase staffing. But while only 6% of companies nationwide said they would increase their workforce by 26% to 50%, the number of Louisiana companies saying they would do so was 23%.

Nearly half of companies in Louisiana also said they expect to have difficulty finding qualified workers such as carpenters and equipment operators. Engels says rising salaries and their emphasis on recruitment from high schools is slowly making a dent.

"We know we have a shortage but with a collaborative effort between the technical colleges, workforce commission, contractors and labor unions, I think we can meet most of the needs," says Engels.