As Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, rolled out his top priorities for lawmakers in Austin earlier this year, one of the things he sought to highlight is the importance of a skilled workforce and the fact that a four-year degree is not a necessity for every single student. Abbott is a big believer in higher education, make no mistake. In fact, one of his emergency items includes recruitment of more Nobel Laureates and their equivalents to Texas.
But his message on the issue is nuanced. Some students need a four-year degree or more and others can get exactly what they need in a two-year program, equipping them with the skills employers demand.
In his State of the State Address in February, Gov. Abbott said the path to success is not the same for all students.
"Our employers are demanding that we better prepare our students for workforce needs," Abbott said. "For many, a two-year degree is far more than a piece of paper. It’s a key that opens the door to economic freedom."
Pointing to the programs at Texas State Technical College based in Waco, Abbott said young people can earn as much as $140,000 as welders because those positions have become extremely difficult to fill. "I’m thinking if this Governor thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to TSTC to get a welder’s certificate,” Abbott said with a smile.
Turns out Abbott did not have to choose – he received an honorary welder’s certificate during TSTC’s 50th Anniversary celebration. And he got a nifty welding helmet to go with it.
“Employers today are demanding the real-world skills taught at TSTC’s 11 campuses,” Abbott told the crowd in Waco, according to his prepared remarks.
“In talking with employers large and small, there’s one message I hear over and over: The workforce of Texas must be equipped with both the technical skills and the critical thinking skills needed to compete in our growing job market.”
Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Schertz, Texas is a primary example, Abbott said. “While a 6-ton robotic arm and a fleet of self-propelled floor robots manage the heavy lifting, engineers, technicians and programmers are the brilliant minds that innovate, build and maintain these advanced technologies.”
Expansion of two-year colleges will be critical in keeping the Texas economy strong moving forward, Abbott said, because these schools “serve as the gateway to better jobs and as a step toward further education for the innovators who will create the jobs of tomorrow.”
Abbott is excited to sign legislation creating a Texas State Technical College campus in the Houston suburb of Fort Bend County, he said.
“That campus is the result of the community coming together. I applaud the cities of Richmond and Rosenberg, Fort Bend County and the Foundations that have collectively contributed $45 million to purchase land and build the first building,” Abbott said.
“50 years ago a Governor had a vision for the future of technical education in the State of Texas. It’s time for an even bolder challenge,” he said. “To keep Texas the beacon of economic opportunity for the nation I want to make Texas the new home for high-skilled manufacturing for a re-shoring of jobs here that once went overseas.”