• November 27, 2020

Ex-Education secretary targets workforce - Odessa American: Local News

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Ex-Education secretary targets workforce

Spellings says challenges can and must be overcome

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Posted: Friday, November 6, 2020 11:28 am

A new statewide workforce initiative, Aim Hire Texas, is aiming to help close gaps preventing many Texans from finding good, high-paying jobs to expand economic opportunity for today and future generations.

Aim Hire Texas (AHT) is a statewide consortium of advocates, employers, nonprofit organizations and education and training providers working to improve the Texas workforce system for the benefit of all Texans and their employers.

An initiative of Texas 2036 and co-chaired with the Commit Partnership, AHT seeks to align the state’s education system and skills development programs with the urgent and future needs of Texas employers, expanding opportunity for Texans from all backgrounds and enhancing talent as a strategic asset for the continued growth of the Texas economy, its flyer said.

Texas 2036’s CEO is Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush who has served in a variety of other national and state government posts.

Tom Luce, an attorney and civic leader who was an attorney for the late H. Ross Perot when he was working on education reform in the 1980s, started traveling around Texas to see if there was an organization or group looking at data, where Texas was as a state and thinking long term about things like education, health, natural resources and infrastructure.

If he could find one, Spellings said, Luce wanted to join with them, but he found there was no one doing that. “The legislative process, the political process, is really about the tyranny of the urgent and what are we confronting today or next week,” Spellings said in a phone interview.

“About four years ago now, this organization was birthed. … Fast forward to last year, I was hired as the CEO. Since then, we’ve built a board, developed what we call a strategic framework for Texas and really put a lot of meat on the bones of Tom’s very good idea about thinking long term about the most important things using lots of data,” Spellings said.

Texas 2036 has 36 goals for Texas based on publicly available facts and more than 300 data sets that show where the state is, sets targets of where they think they can go over the next 16 years and determines where Texas is relative to 11 peer states that are its primary competitors.

“Obviously, along the way we’ve built the required infrastructure of a board and fundraising and those sorts of things so we can mount an effort initially pointed at our legislative session next year on a set of priorities including the promise of broadband, workforce, health, government performance, better data, oversight and management,” Spellings said.

“Then, of course the budget where it all comes home to roost.”

She noted that COVID-19 has interrupted a lot of things and revealed a lot of things. “… So we have joined forces with a statewide organization … here in Dallas called Commit as well as the United Ways of Texas, the Texas Association of Community Colleges, rural funders and some key chambers. “We’re picking up momentum and members and partners as we go, but the whole theory here is to build better connectedness between our supply — the workers that we have and will need — and the demand and the employer community.

“Right now, we have really a pretty inefficient market; not very good signaling about what are the needs of the workplace and what are our educational institutions or others are doing to prepare for those high-need jobs,” Spellings said.

However, Ector County ISD, Odessa College and University of Texas Permian Basin work with local businesses and industry to find out what their needs are and work to help fill them.

This ties in to an extent with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas 60 by 30 initiative which says, in part, that by 2030 at least 60 percent of Texans age 25 to 34 will have a certificate or degree.

Spellings said Texas is a long way from meeting that 60 percent mark. “… What we need to do is make sure that the employer demands we’re preparing people for in our educational system are ready to be engaged productively in the workforce immediately and that we prepare them to have the skills to continue to adapt and evolve over their careers,” Spellings said.

A searchable job site may be available in the future, but the project was just launched the week of Oct. 26. Spellings said Texas 2036 is working with Boston Consulting Group.

“But the first thing we’re doing is analyzing our labor market in Texas, and not only in a statewide way but in a regional way because as you know being out there in the Permian it’s an entirely different market than the East Texas Piney Woods,” she said.

“So how do we think about the needs not only of today, but into the future and then develop a set of policy recommendations for the legislature in the next session and beyond, to, as I like to say get organized for success?”

Spellings added that people say they want more people with at least two years of education beyond high school, which is important in West Texas and the Permian Basin, but “what we pay a premium for in our higher ed funding models are things other than that.

“So we’ve got to put our money where our mouths are,” she said. “We’ve got to look how this signaling is going, if you will, between the employer demand side and the educator supply side.”

Spellings said her organization is in the process of building a statewide coalition. Tracee Bentley, president/CEO of the Permian Strategic Partnership, is on the legislative committee.

Odessa Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Renee Earls said she thinks it will be fantastic to have additional resources to connect education and jobs. She added that she doesn’t want the project to forget about West Texas and hopes they will work with chambers of commerce and economic development agencies across the state to make sure local jobs are promoted.

“We work pretty closely with Willie Taylor and the group at the Permian Basin Workforce Solutions, so I would hope this would be just an extension,” Earls said.

She added that Odessa is fortunate to have one of the top community colleges in the country in Odessa College, but also University of Texas Permian Basin that is part of the UT System.

“We really have a great partnership once students leave high school that these students, and even adult students that even may have been out of education for some time, can learn new skills, new training and get connected with potential jobs,” Earls said.

“We just always want to make sure that here in West Texas we’re not forgotten about, especially with us being the energy area,” she added. “I definitely hope they will reach out to all the chambers and economic development (agencies). We want to make sure they also work with our area and our smaller areas, not just the Metroplex.”

Spellings said the policy recommendations for Aim Hire are under construction right now and they will all be based on data.

She added that it has yet to be determined what the impact of COVID and the economy will be on the efforts of Texas 2036 and its fellow organizations. “… It’s going to bring challenges, no doubt about it,” Spellings said.

“I’ve been around state government longer than I care to remember, but one of the things we know for sure is without broadband you can’t do e-commerce, e-learning, telemedicine and whatnot. We’ve been talking about that issue for about 30 years and maybe now this is a time that we can build a coalition of rural and urban Texas with many millions of people unable to access these various services because of our lack of broadband strength.

“I think COVID has revealed some priorities and of course we have to make sure that we’re maximizing those. It’ll be a challenging (legislative) session, but I’m optimistic that we won’t, as the expression goes, waste the crisis,” Spellings said.

She noted that the way the state government is funded that the economic hit comes later rather than sooner. For instance the hit after the 2009 recession was felt more in the 2011 legislative session.

Putting together all these entities and people, Spellings acknowledged, will be a tall order. “… But as I like to say, we’re Texas, we’re Texans and we can do it,” she said.

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