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Bayou Business Download: The Delta Effect

Published Aug 18, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta


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Welcome to Bayou Business Download, a podcast from the Greater Houston Partnership where we dive into the data and analytics influencing the region’s economy. 

In this episode we discuss the impact of the COVID-19 Delta variant—just when we thought things were looking more positive regarding the pandemic, the new variant has wreaked havoc on our health care system and led to more death across the country and here in the Houston region. While doctors and nurses work to save lives, could this fourth wave derail our economic recovery? We're joined once again today by Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski. 

Some of the topics discussed in this episode include: 

  • The current state of job gains and new unemployment claims 
  • What the country's leading economists are predicting about the trajectory of the economy
  • Which sectors in Houston are making gains and which ones remain stagnant or declining. 
  • How significantly Delta could affect the direction of the economy. 
  • The recovery of the travel sector in Houston. 

Get the latest data and analysis from the Partnership's Research team. 

 

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Connecting the Dots to Help Get Houston Back on Track

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Houston, like most places in the world, is forever changed by the pandemic that broke in the spring of 2020. The metro region lost 361,400 jobs in the ensuing recession, making it worse than the jobs lost in the Great Recession and the oil bust in the 1980’s. Houstonians and our local economy have been hurting ever since, and though much progress has been made, we have only recouped about 60 percent of those lost jobs. More needs to be done to help and support people and employers. It is worth reminding ourselves how we got here. The COVID-19 epidemic has been a disrupting event like few of us have seen. It shut us down and stressed our hospital systems almost to the breaking point. We worried about the sick and grieved over those who we lost. Our workforce suffered as millions of people stayed home and away from work. Many stayed away for a long, long time, even after employers began to open their doors again. The employment gap has hindered our recovery and put us on pause in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetime. Effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted and displaced women, communities of color, and workers with low levels of educational attainment.  The Partnership has for years worked with member organizations and local governments to make greater Houston a metro that could thrive by building a strong, diverse 21st century economy, offering a great quality of life, and ensuring opportunity for all.  When the pandemic threatened to upset this path, the Partnership tapped two community leaders, Matt Morris and Chase Robison, to provide key leadership and work with its Regional Workforce Development division to help chart a path forward. The idea for Houston Back on Track was born. During an UpSkill Works Forum on September 8, our first stakeholders announced Houston Back on Track as the job recovery initiative that promises to connect the dots between displaced workers and our employer partners. Through key partnerships and new ways of combining and coordinating our collective efforts, Houston Back on Track will provide job seekers with the necessary support and resources they need while searching for their next great role and career in healthcare, customer service, transportation/distribution. This alliance of community partners, education providers, and employers is a game changer that should help put Houstonians back to work in jobs with great opportunities for upskilling and growth. Houston Back on Track is supported by organizations and companies committed to making positive change. On the employer side, we are proud to have the support of: HCA Houston Healthcare, Houston Methodist, Mustang CAT, Primary Services, and Silver Eagle Distributors. These companies are seeking to hire hundreds of new employees through this effort. Our community partners will provide career coaching and wraparound services to help prepare job seekers for these roles. They are Wesley Community Center, Houston Area Urban League, Change Happens!, WorkFaith, LISC Houston, and United Way of Greater Houston. While some of these community partners will provide critical preparation and training for clients directly, we will also tap into the expertise and services of our education providers: Lone Star College, Houston Community College, and San Jacinto College. Finally, we will offer online training through LinkedIn Learning, a platform that provides a rich selection of courses in many areas of professional development. This alliance is designed for impact and will scale in the coming months. We know our challenges are great. Fears about contracting the virus are still keeping a gap between people and jobs. This is not our only variable. Many people have reconsidered what they want from their careers, and they are hoping to make a change in industry and occupation. Others want more stability, higher wages, and better benefits than they had before the pandemic. There are impacts that are still unknown to us, but one thing is certain: many job seekers will build off their existing skills and develop new skills as they move into the roles they want. It may be that our work is cut out for us, but we are committed. The partners behind Houston Back on Track are dedicated to not just connecting the dots, but also to helping improve lives. A great job can change the trajectory of an entire family. Our efforts are underway, and we will grow and scale in coming months. Our work starts with employers who need to hire qualified, entry-level workers in occupations with pathways for growth. Join Houston Back on Track if your company is committed to charting a new path forward for Houstonians displaced by the pandemic. Good results are coming.   Connect with the Houston Back on Track team by visiting HoustonBackOnTrack.org or contacting BackOnTrack@Houston.org. 
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Understanding Houston's Jobseekers to Aid Recovery

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Understanding the motivations and anxieties of these Houstonians through representative personas can help organizations support and serve them as they seek better career opportunities and can provide employers with key insights into how they can recruit and retain talent.  Personas deepen empathy and provide context for data – context that employers and community support organizations can use to understand the jobseeker or client experiences and improve communication around program, training, and job opportunities, Jen Shafer told the audience of an UpSkill Works Forum held in August.  “Sometimes it’s really difficult to think about how to apply a certain finding or piece of data, but if ’the data is applied in the context of this empathy tool - this persona that you already have - it makes it a lot easier for people to ideate on possible solutions,” she said. Shafer, a master’s fellow with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Integrated Design & Management program working with the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative, partnered with several organizations in United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE financial stability network to research the region’s jobseekers as part of the Partnership’s ongoing effort to help rebuild the region’s workforce and economy after the pandemic.  Through her research, Shafer identified four personas representative of today’s underemployed and unemployed jobseekers: the “fresh face” who is curious, inexperienced, and finds it challenging to navigate the system; the “mayday mom” who is a busy and motivated mother frustrated by a monotonous job where she is unchallenged and unappreciated; the “Houston strong” worker who has weathered trauma and, while resourceful and resilient, is fearful about being stigmatized for seeking the mental healthcare she needs; and the “wise and worried” project manager who was laid off from a job he was proud of amid the COVID-19 pandemic and is anxiously approaching retirement age without a sense of job security despite his advanced degrees. 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Fast Forward Works assists individuals, organizations, and employers to set up individuals for career success. “When we can more fully understand how those folks relate to their daily challenges, we can do a better job of helping them find a pathway to success,” he said. Houston’s jobseekers are not alone – numerous organizations such as Change Happens! and The WorkFaith Connection and others that make up United Way’s THRVE network offer an array of trainings and supports that run the gamut from financial literacy and coaching to job preparation to wraparound supports and services. United Way of Greater Houston president and CEO Amanda McMillian noted that agency partners can use personas to understand what is needed to help individuals get to the front door of an employer ready to work and grow in a career. Change Happens! designs its services, which empower people to help themselves, around the problems and pain points its clients face, said organization CEO Helen Stagg. 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