TEXAS VIEW: Will Texas build the workforce it needs?

THE POINT: Workforce development is a work in progress.

Building Texas’ workforce of the future isn’t as simple as hanging out a “we’re hiring” shingle. And that’s why we’re hopeful that the state’s latest workforce development strategy is treated with the sense of urgency that it deserves.

State officials recently unveiled Accelerating Alignment, Texas Workforce System Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2024-2031. It is a dense document of flowcharts, goals and expectations created by the Texas Workforce Investment Council and approved by Gov. Greg Abbott to address the state’s workforce weaknesses.

Despite being a highly bureaucratic document, its recommendations are reminders that identifying a problem isn’t the same as solving it. A key takeaway is that workforce development strategy in Texas is an ad hoc work in progress that suffers from the lack of detailed information to evaluate outcomes, such as whether money and policies are making it easier for adults and those without a college degree to acquire new marketable skills.

Getting more people into the workplace with marketable skills is an economic imperative especially for lower-income students and mid-career workers to get the training they need for an upwardly mobile job. Not surprisingly, the plan suggests that too few programs exist to allow workers to obtain short-term credentials, industry-based certifications or degrees to help adults respond to employment changes. Nor is enough being done statewide to integrate adults with disabilities into employment training opportunities and to accelerate work-based learning and apprenticeship in public schools.

The state can’t have all of the answers, but officials are asking the right questions. We know that roughly 70% of Texas jobs will require a postsecondary credential in the next decade and that children in classrooms today or adults in midcareer may have to reskill several times to remain relevant in the workforce. But without adequate systems to promote pathways for workers to acquire skills, degrees, certificates or other postsecondary credentials, the gap between the needs of employers and the skills in the workforce will continue to plague employers and employees.

We hope this plan inspires a sense of urgency, a commitment to keep talent on the field. It needs to encourage more collaboration with employers. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature took a step in this direction when it approved a historic funding model to reward community colleges for offering affordable and relevant skills training that Texas workers and employers require. Dozens of other state agencies, local workforce boards, school districts, community and technical colleges, and local adult education providers of secondary and postsecondary technical programs, services and initiatives need to move in a similar direction.

Any plan is only as good as the commitment to work to build a hiring pipeline of skilled workers to support a dynamic economy and prosperous community. Texas has an opportunity to get ahead of these trends and mitigate the crippling long-term consequences of workers without skills and employers without workers.

The Dallas Morning News