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How career education can repair the Texas economy

December 09, 2021

The following is from the Houston Business Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic caused chaos in the workforce across the country, and Texas was not immune to the fluctuations. While employment numbers have continued to shift locally, the large demand for workers to fill middle-skill positions–those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree–remains.

Recent natural disasters that impacted our state’s power grid illustrated the need for skilled workers in the trades–not only to fix the ongoing situation but also to ensure the infrastructure of our communities is able to function now into the future. To fill the need, we must build our pipeline of trained workers and support initiatives that champion the opportunities that career and technical education (CTE) provide for the individual worker, as well as for employers and the communities they serve.

In Houston, 1.4 million jobs are middle-skill positions in key industries like manufacturing, trades and healthcare. Unfortunately, local employers are seeing major workforce shortages as they seek to fill these jobs.

As employers struggle with the current situation, the next generation of workers appears to be embracing the opportunities that CTE provides. A recent study by ECMC Group found that the incoming generation of workers is prioritizing career readiness in their postsecondary education, and believes they can be successful with education credentials attained in less than three years. Combined with significant concerns about student debt, these soon-to-be workers see that shorter, less expensive education pathways provided by CTE make sense.

This mindset can also be seen in Houston-area CTE programs, which saw enrollment spike during the pandemic as students turned to “essential work” to become more immune to the economic climate.

At Altierus Career College, we’ve also experienced an influx in our skilled trades and healthcare programs from those looking to quickly enter the workforce in positions less likely to experience a downturn due to health crises or natural disasters. Partners such as Trio Electric and WellMed have continued contributing to our programs and hiring our graduates to fill these critical positions.

To ensure employers have sufficient access to skilled labor, industry leaders and educators need to come together to develop high-quality programs that get workers into the field quickly, while partnering to ascertain that learners have the skills to be successful. At Altierus, we engage our employer partners on a multitude of levels, from gathering their input on our curriculum to developing “learn and earn” models where students have the opportunity for on-the-job training that includes compensation.

Several organizations are seeing the need and making strides to stem the tide. One example is Upskill Houston, an effort of the Greater Houston Partnership that aims to strengthen the pipeline of skilled workers employers need to create better pathways to opportunity and prosperity through middle-skills jobs. At the same time, the Texas Workforce Commission recently proposed setting aside $9 million focused on closing the middle-skills gap through “job creation, job preparedness and job progression activities.”

To further support those entering and re-entering the workforce, employers can also reassess their hiring requirements. As our future workers and economy become more reliant on skills than degrees, employers must reconsider recruitment strategies based on education level. By lessening the requirement for a degree, companies have the ability to welcome workers with a wider range of educational backgrounds, experiences and diverse perspectives.

As Houston looks to embrace full economic recovery, CTE must be part of the conversation if we are to include a broad array of employers and future workers in the discussion. By coming together, we can remove stigmas associated with so-called alternative pathways and bring the education that fills essential position where it should be–into the mainstream.

By Greg Garrett, campus director at Altierus Career College Houston Bissonnet

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