Authored by Peter Beard and originally published on GHP.org.
Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Representative Jim Murphy (R-Houston) have introduced critical workforce legislation to align the work of the state’s three major education and workforce bodies to strengthen the Texas talent pipeline and improve workforce development outcomes across the state. This legislation, Senate Bill 1622 and House Bill 3767, would build on existing collaborative work of these bodies – the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission – and establish a permanent Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative. The Partnership and UpSkill Houston have provided support to and testimony in favor of these bills under consideration during the 87th Legislative Session.
The Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative has been introduced in the backdrop of a severe economic crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and energy industry downturn in Texas that has made closing existing gaps between employers’ workforce demands and workers’ employment needs more urgent than ever before. The pandemic accelerated a fundamental shift toward technology-enabled, innovation-based economies already underway in Texas and across the United States, driving trends with lasting skills implications for employers, workers, and education systems. Though the full effects of the pandemic and downturn on the region’s economy and workforce may not be known for years, the pace of change and continued uncertainty will likely require more innovation and agility within our traditional education systems to address changing skill needs and meet the talent shortages.
We know through our work with the UpSkill Houston initiative that:
- The adoption of digital and automation technologies into workflows has increased the need for workers – regardless of their industry, occupation, or education level – to possess strong digital skills.
- Skills are becoming obsolete more quickly, and workers will need to routinely upskill to keep pace with the speed of change.
- Employers are placing a higher premium on so-called soft, or non-cognitive, skills that are essential for baseline success in the workplace.
- Innovative and agile solutions are needed for Texas to rebound amid continuing change and maintain a quality workforce with the skills and education necessary to compete globally while ensuring individual prosperity.
The Partnership, through UpSkill Houston, highlights that better data and coordination between employers and key education and community stakeholders can drive performance and outcomes. This work has demonstrated how business and industry leaders are increasingly using data analytics to assess their practices, make decisions, and drive continual improvement. More and more employers are focused on skills-based hiring and using data to communicate the skills they value in their workforce. UpSkill Houston’s partners are leading examples of how employers, education systems and nonprofits can effectively collaborate to advance their common goals and benefit the communities they serve – and with positive results.
State lawmakers and leaders continue to position Texas to develop the high-quality skilled workforce the state needs to grow and compete globally while providing economic opportunity for future generations. The Tri-Agency initiative would formalize existing cooperative efforts between the TEA, THECB, and TWC initially begun at the request of Governor Greg Abbott to assess local economic activity, examine workforce challenges and opportunities, and consider innovative approaches to meeting the state’s workforce goals.
A permanent, state-led Tri-Agency Workforce initiative, as proposed, would coordinate and optimize information and resources and align and drive performance across TEA, THECB, and TWC. It would create a unified workforce data repository that would improve the Texas longitudinal data systems to identify and analyze key trends in education and workforce. In addition, aggregated longitudinal data would help key stakeholders continually improve their programs and practices not unlike the way businesses assess and improve supply chains.
During the 86th Legislative Session, in 2019, the Partnership supported legislation intended to build upon that work and create the Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future to chart the course for the state’s workforce development policy by bringing together stakeholders and identifying policy recommendations to help Texas build a pipeline of skilled talent. The legislation (House Bill 3511) was not signed into law, so the commission was not created. But the effort heightened awareness of the vital role of business leaders and employers have in the workforce development conversation and in a pipeline of skilled talent fit for the future.
The proposed Tri-Agency legislation identifies the important need for strong career coaching, navigation and support services for students and adult learners. We know from the more than 200 employer, education and nonprofit UpSkill Houston partners that understanding the skills needs of employers is necessary to assist students and individuals as they navigate careers and identify upskilling opportunities. We also know that students and adult learners will require various support to navigate the changing nature of work and identify high-value skilling and upskilling opportunities.
The state’s economy and industries are being reshaped by technology and other global forces at a more rapid pace than before, impacting talent needs. Ensuring Texas has the finest workforce in the world and provides economic opportunity for future generations will require sustained alignment, innovation, and performance. This can be achieved if such a coordinated initiative is formalized and guided by the needs of employers and the workforce, and grounded in data and real-time insights from employers, as exemplified by the work of UpSkill Houston and its partners.
Peter Beard is the Partnership’s senior vice president of regional workforce development and leader of its UpSkill Houston initiative. Beard testified in favor of SB 1622 and HB 3767 before the Senate Higher Education Committee and the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee.
Learn more about UpSkill Houston.