On November 12, GHP held the UpSkill Houston Workforce Summit which brought together industry, education and community leaders to discuss the middle skills workforce challenges and solutions for Houston and the nation, and provided an update on UpSkill Houston’s progress and 2015 agenda.
The event featured a number of expert panels and a luncheon keynote from Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School, who discussed the U.S. Competitiveness Project and the role companies can play in creating supply-demand alignment. The U.S. Competitiveness Project is a research-led effort by Harvard Business School to identify practical steps to strengthen the nation’s economy, with recent emphasis on beefing up job skills, K-12 education, transportation and infrastructure.
In addition, JPMorgan Chase released an important report, “Preparing Houston to Skill Up, Addressing the Skills Mismatch to Meet Employer Demand in High-Growth Industries.”
The Houston region has experienced incredible growth over the last several years. Led by a resurgence in energy, petrochemicals, manufacturing, life sciences, and construction, the region’s economy has been widely acclaimed as a city of opportunity and a great place to do business.
While this is all largely true, leaders from across the business community have identified one of the region’s most pressing issues that is critical to our continued success: workforce development. We must develop a qualified employee base properly trained for tomorrow’s job needs or face an understaffed economy that will stifle the growth and vitality of our region. We must also ensure that young people in Greater Houston have the skills and opportunities to enter the workforce and build successful careers, raise families and prosper.
To address the challenge, the Greater Houston Partnership developed UpSkill Houston, a comprehensive, industry-led approach to bridge the gap and fill jobs in middle-skills occupations.
UpSkill Houston is an innovative blueprint for leaders from the business community, educational institutions and social service organizations to utilize as we lead this effort to build a quality workforce.
Overview of the Workforce Challenge in Houston
A number of reasons for the skills gap have been suggested by researchers investigating the issue. This includes changing skills required due to technological advancements, demographics, policies and priorities, culture and the fact that today’s students often choose their field of study based on personal interest, rather than labor market information.
The Houston region’s 1.4 million middle skills jobs are spread across 348 occupations. The largest portion of these –188 occupations– fall into the blue collar category, which includes production, transportation, and construction occupations. The 513,660 jobs in these occupations in 2012 represent almost 35 percent of the region’s middle skills jobs.
The region’s workforce challenge is compounded by the energy boom and the associated investment in the region.
Many of the region’s largest manufacturers in terms of employment are connected to the Oil and Gas and Petrochemical sectors, however, within the broad Advanced Manufacturing sector, which includes mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of materials, substances or components into new products, middle skills account for as much as two-thirds of employment in some of the associated subsectors. The bulk of employment in Houston’s healthcare industry is also comprised of middle skills workers. In fact, these occupations represent more than one-half of total employment across all the major subsectors for healthcare.
Other key sectors facing the middle skills challenge in the Houston region include ports and maritime, commercial and industrial construction and utilities.
Strategy 1: Sector Councils
Create sector councils to ensure the critical workforce needs and challenges of each sector are addressed.
Strategy 2: Awareness Campaign
Develop and launch an aggressive campaign to change the awareness and perception of middle-skills career opportunities.
Strategy 3: Basic Skills & Employability
Encourage the adoption of common tools and curricula to assess individuals and provide training to address weaknesses in basic skills and employability.
Strategy 4: Coordination
Facilitate connections between stakeholders and the dissemination of information throughout the system.
Strategy 5: Data System
Develop tools to collect better demand-side and supply-side data.
Strategy 6: Supply-Side Synchronization
Work with education and training providers to establish networks to enable the efficient dissemination of information, sharing of best practices, and strengthening of industry partnerships.