Although she just started recently, Molly Young, director of Education and Workforce Strategic Initiatives at the Permian Strategic Partnership, has a lot on her plate.
One item is that the Permian Strategic Partnership, PetroSkills and University of Texas Petroleum Extension just announced plans to launch the Catalyst workforce development program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to both assess existing educational curriculums and design a platform for future standardization and workforce integration.
Funded by an initial investment of $775,000 from PSP, the program’s goal is to align industry training needs with the educational and training ecosystem’s ability to deliver those skills.
Young, who has experience in everything from teaching to running a Main Street program, said the program has been in the works for more than a year. COVID-19 got everybody off balance, so it took a little longer than planned.
“… We also wanted to get to a place where we could have all of the actors that needed to be involved actively engaged …,” Young said. “… I think the timing is really great for launching this now that we’re getting back to a sense of normalcy, and (we) can start to refocus on things outside of just the pandemic response.”
Colleges and universities seemed to be gearing toward the oil and gas industry, but there were still some gaps to fill. Young noted that Midland and Odessa colleges and the University of Texas Permian Basin all have “amazing programs focused on the industry.”
“I think where we want to help is in making sure that what they’re teaching is in direct alignment with what industry is telling us they need,” Young said.
Phase I is going to the companies and saying, “Okay, what are your high-demand jobs that you’re having trouble filling because you’ve got a skills gap; and then what are the skills that you’re missing? That’s kind of the first phase is working with industry to identify those high demand jobs and what’s missing? And then phase two will be okay, education, here’s what industry told us they need and what’s missing? And then here’s how we’re going to work together to solve the challenges,” Young said.
She estimated that this part would take about six months.
“There are two parts to Phase I. The first part of phase one is the industry alignment. That’s going to take about three months, and then the second part is the education piece. And that’ll take about three months. So we should have some report about what needs to happen in about six months. There won’t be any action yet. It’ll still be here’s what we you know, the information gathering part, and then the here’s what we found part. … The next step will be okay, now how do we fix it? What resources do you need? What tools do you need? Do you need new curriculum? Do you need new experts? Do you need software; simulators? What is it that’s going to help you make up this gap between what industry needs and what you’re currently teaching to your students?” Young said.
Asked if this was the end of well-rounded college students, Young said that’s not the goal at all.
“I think it’s just to make sure that they’re coming out of whatever academic or trades program they’re doing with all the skills that they need to be successful in industry. And then we don’t have the industry saying, ‘Well, you know, I really wish they were coming to us with this thing. And now we’re having to train them in-house. And that’s making our lives difficult. And we just want well oiled machines on both sides.’ We want the companies to know what they need, and we want our education systems to be providing the people that they need right directly into the workforce,” she added.
Young said she’s sure colleges and universities are eager to be able to supply industry with the personnel they need. On the recent Catalyst launch call, she said there were more educators than industry representatives.
“But it was interesting to me that the educators were so engaged and excited to be there that they made space. And this is the last week of school, so many of them have many other priorities that are competing. I was really pleased to show them from all of our higher ed organizations, and most of the school districts in the immediate region showed up. … We had a really good showing on the education side. … It’s always fun for me to see the mix of … who showed up and who wants to be part of this conversation,” Young said.
Young first learned about PSP when she was a consultant to the Priority Midland project. She facilitated the Education Committee and the quality of place committees.
Having spent a lot of time in the Odessa-Midland area, Young got to know many of the community players and learned what was happening in education and the workforce. She fell in love with this part of Texas.
“… I had never been up here. I had been into the Davis Mountains and I had been to Big Bend. But I’d not ever been to Midland or Odessa. I didn’t really realize that this was even here …,” she said.
“… I just really loved the people and the sensibilities. The climate’s a little wacky, but it keeps life interesting,” Young added.
A Beeville native, Young went to Texas A&M Corpus Christi earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in education from Texas A&M. She did graduate work in education policy at Columbia University in New York.
Given her bachelor’s degree, Young thought she was going to work in politics. She worked for former state comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander.
“She immediately put me on education-focused projects. And my mom was a teacher, so I knew a little bit about the space, but I certainly was not thinking that that was the direction I was going in life. I wanted to go to the legislature and listen to hearings to be part of that nonsense. And I did do some of that. There was a program called the Texas Report Card that kind of watched school progress. It was before there were such high level accountability measures coming from the state agency and the comptroller had a program where they kind of monitored success and I was part of that team,” Young said.
She also was involved in technology projects such as deploying laptops and virtual private networks to rural school districts around Texas “to see if we could provide them with high quality college level credits in places where they wouldn’t be able to get a teacher that would teach that level of class.”
Her experience working for Rylander shaped her career path, sending her toward becoming a middle school teacher. She didn’t know if she wanted to stay in the classroom long term, but she loved education and education policy.
“I left teaching and went back to Austin and worked for the Texas General Land Office where I was in charge of education initiatives that were focused on interesting things that the Land Office does like coastal erosion and plants and veterans issues. It was a very nice opportunity for me to lead a team and get some supervisory experience, but have input on how we were educating young people around the state of Texas about what all of those things mean, and how the Land Office works through their process of trying to keep Texas a great place to live,” Young said.
After that, she moved home for a while to be closer to family. There wasn’t a job opportunity that matched her experience, but she did head the newly formed Main Street program.
“I did that for almost five years. I was the founding director for Beeville Main Street program and ultimately absorbed a lot of the economic development activities for the town. They have a tax increment finance zone. I led that work, led the economic development liaison work between the county in the city and the state agency and then did the downtown redevelopment program, which was really cool, because that’s where I learned to do fun development. And I raised quite a bit of money for my little small town while I was there, and found that I had a niche for writing grants and convincing people to commit their funds and resources to projects that were important,” Young said.
She went to Columbia, came back to work with a group called E3 Alliance (Education Equals Economics) in Austin, a collective educational organization, similar to what the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin is growing into, Young said.
Her job there was to raise the money for the organization and work on projects that helped to address the student achievement gaps in the Central Texas area.
Her time at E3 taught her many things about the education world and then spun that out into her own consultancy where she started to focus on the connections between kindergarten through 12th grade, postsecondary and the workforce.
“Somehow, I ended up with all these workforce boards as clients and they were all saying, well, we don’t understand. We’ve got all these education organizations, but none of them are doing any kind of training or providing opportunities where we really need them to be. … We have all these jobs and no one’s training people for them. And so it was like a big lightbulb moment for me to say, oh, like, we’ve got to figure out how to do exactly what Catalyst is doing. We’ve got to figure out how to get industry to talk to education in a much better way so that they’re not out there wasting resources, or worse, training people for jobs that don’t (exist),” Young said.
PSP has identified some “big bucket goals” for the education and the workforce committee.
“For education, it is focused around building out the teacher pipeline so that it can support the needs of the region with high-quality teachers and engaged teachers. They’re also interested in building leadership in schools and at the school district level, and investing in those sorts of things that will help to improve quality outcomes at that level. And then in general, just tackling the big challenges that are facing the education community right now,” Young said.
“… We want to see places where we can create a large-scale impact by investing in education initiatives that we think are going to turn the dial for the broader region in the education space. And then for the workforce committee, they’re very focused on the talent development pipeline. So what are the things that we can do to build a skilled workforce to make sure that we’re aligned with industry, and that we are creating a world class region where people want to live and work. And then we are actually working on a new strategic alignment opportunity where we know that there’s a lot of overlap between education and workforce, they are very connected to each other. And so we’re bringing together the two committees to have conversations about how we want to lead forward and think about combined opportunities, combined initiatives, combined funding, and how we can work better together,” she added.
Workforce also has an early childhood education component, focused on the childcare ecosystem, knowing that parents are not happy at work if their children are not in safe, high- quality childcare situations.
“That’s a challenge that the workforce committee has taken on …” she said.
Tracee Bentley, president and CEO of PSP, said she is thrilled to have Young on the PSP team.
“She brings extensive knowledge and experience in both the education and workforce arenas and will be an invaluable asset to not only the PSP, but all of our Permian Basin communities,” Bentley said in an email.