A Texas-Sized Talent Shortage
Improvements in Education Key to Meeting Workforce Needs
By Joe Arnold, Chairman of the Texas Association of Manufacturers’ Workforce Committee
While Texas leaders tout the state as “Wide Open for Business,” there’s an increasing risk that the “Help Wanted” sign may go unanswered for many employers.
That’s because, according to the most recent Skills Gap study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting, two-thirds of business respondents report a moderate to severe shortage of qualified, available workers.
And, there’s every reason to believe the Skills Gap study is shining a light on a very real issue. In late March, the San Antonio Manufacturers Association estimated that more than 1,500 open jobs in the area remained unfilled due to a lack of skills among potential workers.
Texas may be a modern day “Field of Dreams,” but if we build the industries and the jobs, will we have the skilled talent to maintain our economic dominance?
The state’s leadership has done right and done well in creating a business climate that’s ripe for expanded investment and job creation. Continued efforts to ensure our state’s tax, energy and environmental policies encourage – not dissuade – additional business expansion, relocation and growth should be a continued priority.
But, if we don’t also take simultaneous action to ensure Texans are educated, well trained and equipped for the complexity and rigors of a competitive global economy, we all stand to suffer as businesses look elsewhere for workers.
The problem is especially acute in the manufacturing sector, a pillar of the state’s economy and an industry that increasingly needs workers with a wide array of education and training, everything from technical certificates to advanced degrees.
The Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America estimates that by 2018 Texas will need to fill 758,000 STEM-related jobs (jobs that focus on science, engineering, technology and math). Manufactures will also need to fill other good-paying positions that don’t require post-secondary degrees but job training and certificate programs.
Historically, the manufacturing sector has been a primary source for middle-class jobs, especially for workers without a college degree. But today, manufacturing has diversified and across the board, manufacturers are clamoring for qualified workers of all kinds, from welders to engineers and pipe fitters to chemists. Regardless of their specialty, manufacturing workers can expect an average annual salary of more than $70,000.
The Texas Association of Manufacturers and our members are working to shift understanding about the industry and the types of jobs we create today, but for its part, the State of Texas must also ensure a solid foundation is laid in our state’s public schools, community colleges and universities.
We need flexibility in our education system that recognizes different talents and provides different options and approaches so students get the education they need. Whatever paths our young people wish to take after high school, whether to a technical or community college, or a four-year university, we must sustain the state’s new emphasis in K-12 policy of educating all students to readiness for postsecondary success. There must be rigor across the board for all students and it is essential that we expose our students to a curriculum that demonstrates that what they’re learning directly relates to jobs in the real world.
It’s heartening to see both the Texas House and Senate consider these issues ahead of the next Legislative Session that begins in January. In fact, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, chaired by Senator John Carona, takes up workforce training and career readiness in a hearing at the State Capitol on April 10.
It’s time we better prepare our students in public schools by establishing a flexible framework that meets the needs of students and also the wide array of Texas employers hoping to hire them some day soon.
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Joe Arnold is chairman of the Texas Association of Manufacturers’ Workforce Committee.