Skip to main content

Public, Higher Education Leaders Share Insights on Preparing Students for an Ever-Evolving Future

Published Oct 18, 2021 by Julia McGowen

State of Education - K-12

A strong education system is key to building opportunity for all Houstonians. It contributes to the long-term success of our young people, increases equity and is intrinsically tied to Houston’s ability to remain competitive with a talented workforce. 

Many would argue that ensuring the opportunity for all to succeed is dependent on two things: a strong education system and career pathways. These topics among others were front and center at the Greater Houston Partnership’s third annual State of Education. In a two-part event, Houston-area superintendents and Rice University President David Leebron shared their outlook on shifts in learning models, coping with learning loss and the knowledge needed to drive a 21st century economy. 

Panel Discussion Discussing a Look Forward at K-12 Education

Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers and Dr. Jennifer Blaine, superintendent of Spring Branch’s school district, engaged in a dialogue with Dr. Melanie Johnson, President & CEO of the Collaborative for Children on the outlook for regional K-12 school systems. 

COVID-19 has undoubtedly posed negative impacts to learning and social growth and as the pandemic persists, the long-term impacts will not be fully known for some time. “There is a propensity for a large skills gap within this generation due to the pandemic,” said Blaine. “We’re looking at three years or more in terms of learning loss – loss in terms of literacy, numeracies, basic foundational schooling. That’s the academic piece but there is also social and emotional wellness that is developed in school that is lost too.”

Chambers added that like all of us, students are coping with the pandemic in varying ways. “When students aren’t adjusting well, it’s hard to teach them skills – before we address learning loss, we need to address the broader loss and get students to a point where they are able to absorb learning and schooling.” 

The panel shed light on the educator workforce and challenges in retaining and attracting high-performing teachers. Chambers noted that his district has been partnering with local universities to recruit incoming freshmen and showcase career paths in the education space to increase the pipeline of teachers. “Rewarding quality teachers to remain in the classroom isn’t a sustainable solution, we need a resolution to the bigger problem,” Chambers said. Blaine shared that she often works with her teachers to find opportunities for growth and advancement while keeping them in the classroom. “Spring Branch ISD has instituted an opportunity culture where teachers can be incentivized to stay in the classroom while making more money through added programs.” 

The two superintendents also shared ways that industry and the business community can contribute to the future of our schools and students. Chambers said that “members of the business community can help by partnering with or volunteering in their local school districts.” The idea of partnering with school districts and business in a meaningful way – like the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston Initiative – helps to align what employers expect so education and skillsets can be adapted, he said. Chambers added that initiatives like these help to legitimize non-four-year degree programs and opens the door to an expanded pipeline of skilled laborers.

Blaine offered that “technical education is key, offering pathways for students to earn a certification when they graduate that propels them directly into the workforce. SBISD is also currently looking for business partners to build intern and externships to fuel these programs." 

Fireside Chat Explores Houston's Higher Ed Future 

Following nearly two decades at the helm of Rice University, President David Leebron recently announced he would step down from the role at the close of the 2021-2022 academic year. Leebron sat down with Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey for a fireside chat where the two discussed the changes coming to higher education and the critical role Rice plays in the aspirations of the city of Houston. 

Leebron came to Houston after serving as the dean of Columbia Law School, quipping that at the time, coming from NYC to Houston seemed like an adventure. “Rice brought me to Houston but the important thing that has kept us here is the City of Houston and the people, the opportunities, the ambition of the city and the way the city works.” Leebron added that he feels that Houston is the most misunderstood city of North America but can attest that its entrepreneurial spirt, greenspaces and diversity foster incredible growth in his students and encourage the student body to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. 

When asked about his outlook on higher ed’s future, Leebron noted that today, institutions have the ability to serve a wider spectrum of students at various stages and setting of their lives than ever before – which Leebron feels is critical to advancing equity. “Higher ed is an engine of opportunity, a necessary part of the fabric of the country to make it a fair and equitable country. A vast majority of higher ed remains public not profits guided by mission and the larger needs of society. Investment in society including equity of society is what we’re here for at the end of the day.” 

Leebron went on to describe two exciting developments spurred by Rice that are contributing to the growth of Houston’s innovation ecosystem and strengthening its position as the Energy Capital of the World. “In Rice’s strategic plan, we realized we needed to double down on engaging with and empowering the success of the city of Houston,” he said. This engagement is illustrated in the development of the Ion and its surrounding 16-acre innovation district that sits at the geographical center of Houston’s institutions of higher education. “Houston needed a marque place for people to come to know our commitment to tech, innovation, startups,” Leebron said. The Ion will ultimately bring together some presence of all Houston’s higher ed institutions, community colleges, industry leaders and startups to be a center for education and innovation.

Leebron also shared details on The Welch Institute for Advanced Materials noting that collective knowledge that comes with a development like this is critical to Houston remaining at the center of energy innovation. “Where ideas come from still matters, we need to continue to build relationships between industry, academia, research and application – this is what keeps companies here, they need to be close to where the ideas are created” Leebron said. 

Learn more about Houston’s education systems and the Partnership’s work to unite higher education with business

Related News

Digital Technology

Digital Skills: Creating Pathways to Opportunity

10/27/21
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a fundamental shift already underway toward digitalization of workplaces and workflows across the regional and global economy. The rate at which employers have adopted and integrated new technologies is increasing. So has the reliance on data to optimize output and productivity and to minimize cost.  This shift means many workers will need to enhance and develop the skills necessary to keep pace with these shifts – and to be successful. Companies are finding themselves in need of talent with the necessary skills to succeed in today’s digital economy, while at the same time workers are seeking meaningful, rewarding work. General Assembly (GA) was founded in in 2011, when the country was coming out of the last recession and recession and tech startups were rapidly emerging, traditional companies were seeking digitally skilled talent, and opportunities for people to acquire new skillsets to pursue careers in these sectors were not widely available. The pioneering educational organizations is known for helping people transform their careers, specializing in the day’s most in-demand skills and for embedding networking opportunities, mentorship and other activities that propel students toward employment.   Tom Ogletree, General Assembly’s vice president of Social Impact and External Affairs, shared during an October UpSkill Works Forum called “Digital Skills: Powering Houston’s Future!” how General Assembly builds programs to meet both employer and workforce needs. “Being able to see both sides of this talent marketplace has really given us a front row seat to some of the evolutions that have been happening as all companies are becoming to one degree or another tech companies,” Ogletree said. “Digital skills are required for categories across sectors, across disciplines, and that there needs to be a reimagining of the ways that people acquire new skills to stay relevant in a really dynamic labor market and a very rapidly changing economy.” GA stays in tune with market needs to ensure that the skills it teaches have real market value. Its in-depth courses help individuals build skillsets and capabilities in areas like product management, data analysis, and user experience (UX) design, and it offers programs to help people completely pivot into tech-based careers. Its experiential and immersive courses are taught by industry practitioners who bring field experience and context to the classroom and are portfolio-driven to allow students to work on the types of projects they will be doing once they graduate and so that graduates can demonstrate the skills they’ve developed through their own work, Ogletree said. The organization’s more basic programs and workshops are designed to help introduce people to a “digital-first” mindset and some of the necessary skills to understand whether they would be a good fit for a type of tech-based careers before they make the commitment to enroll in an in-depth, and much longer – and more expensive (although subsidies and scholarships are available) – course, he said. GA works with employer clients to build in-house tech talent, too – particularly employers that might not seem like tech companies but are increasingly in need of digitally skilled talent. Fewer than a quarter of Houston’s net tech workers – workers in technical occupations or for a “tech” company – are in technical occupations at “tech” companies, and more than 60 percent of tech workers in Houston work at non-tech companies, according to Partnership analysis of the Computing Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) Cyberstates 2021 report. GA also works directly with employers to build digital academies to reach untapped talent:  for example, it partnered with Adobe to build a fully subsidized program to bring members of under-represented populations into its tech workforce – the program leads to apprenticeship opportunities with the company. It is currently working with Accenture to source candidates for an applied intelligence/data science and analytics apprenticeship in Houston.  General Assembly’s dedicated career coaches work with students throughout their coursework and beyond graduation, helping them think about how to position their personal brands or previous experience and prepare for interviews. General Assembly boasts a 91 percent placement rate of students within three months of graduating and close to 100 percent within a year, Ogletree said, though he acknowledged that these numbers are likely to show decline during the recent labor market fluctuations.  “If the value proposition that we provide to students is that you're going to get a job at the end of this, we need to make sure that your whoever hires you is very satisfied,” Ogletree said. “When we work with large scale enterprises, we're trying to make sure that they're really seeing a return on investment on trainings and investments in their own people.”    When BakerRipley sought to pilot a program to help adult learners without experience break into tech fields, it turned to General Assembly. The organization was drawn to General Assembly’s approach, which embraces what the whole student for success and retention, including wraparound services through social supports and employment coaches, financial options that provide true access for income-constrained students, strong outcomes in obtaining employment, and cohort learning for social skill building, according to Cara Baez, BakerRipley Center for Excellence Senior Director. A cohort of about a dozen students are currently working through a BakerRipley tech bridge program, where they’re learning technical and soft skills to prepare them for General Assembly’s in-depth education program.  GA’s student support is key, say BakerRipley’s Director of Learning and Workforce Initiatives Angela Johnson and Mobility Coach Diana Delgado. GA’s ability to allow students to “try-on” careers helps them make informed decisions about committing to an educational pathway toward a particular career. Its career support lets students “on-ramp” while they’re in training and minimizes any gap between course completion and looking for (or finding) a job. What’s more: “They have a really robust post-training service that is connecting students to real jobs and real employers,” Johnson said. “Every tool students need for placement is available to them with General Assembly.” “They go into this pathway knowing they’re going to be supported all the way,” Delgado added.   UpSkill Houston is the Partnership’s nationally recognized, employer-led initiative that mobilizes the collective action of employers, educators, and community-based leaders to strengthen the talent pipeline the region’s employers need to grow their businesses and to help all Houstonians develop relevant skills and connect to good careers that increase their economic opportunity and mobility. BakerRipley is an UpSkill Houston initiative partner. See all previous UpSkill Works forums here.
Read More
Employment

Jobseekers Linking In to Employment Opportunities

10/4/21
By the summer of 2021, the Houston region had recovered 58% of the roughly 361,400 jobs shed in spring of 2020. Despite this gain, largely in areas including leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation, and utilities, the region’s recovery lags behind the national rate of 75%. If Houston’s current growth trends hold, economists project the region's labor market will likely experience a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels as early as December 2022. So for the balance of 2021 and well into 2022, companies will continue to seek workers and Houstonians will go on searching for good employment.  Over the summer, the Partnership’s Houston Back on Track job recovery initiative explored how the pandemic affected Houstonians looking to re-engage in the region’s workforce. Today’s job seekers have a mix of education, work background, and life experience. Despite being tenacious, hopeful and motivated, they find navigating job search and application systems challenging.  LinkedIn has the potential to be instrumental in this recovery and helping connect job seekers with employment opportunities. Widely viewed as a professional networking platform for white collar workers, LinkedIn holds the promise of being the lynchpin between Houston employers with needs across their businesses and talent regardless of education or work background – including workforce newcomers, entry-level workers, career-changers, and jobseekers excluded by automated resume selection processes.  Going Social for Job Searches Accenture and Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work initiative recently explored the phenomena of “hidden workers” in the workforce and their potential for filling much-needed jobs. These people are ones who want to work but are shut out of the workforce for one reason or another or those employed but could work more hours under the right circumstances, such as veterans, caregivers, and immigrants and refugees, among others. The Partnership’s research supports these findings. Harvard and Accenture note that, with repeated rejections, workers are apt to grow frustrated and stop looking for work. The study showed that 40% of employers use social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to seek talent for "middle skill" jobs but less than 30% of hidden workers in the middle skills space use social media to seek employment. Additionally, only 42% of hidden workers in middle skills space know how to effectively use social media to increase their employability. Platforms like LinkedIn can help workers such as these promote themselves and their skills, learn about industries, and draw the attention of recruiters.  The Power of LinkedIn  LinkedIn allows users to provide information about themselves through profiles, build a network of connections, and share and engage with comments, photos and videos, and articles in a news feed, and search for and apply for jobs. Likewise, companies can share information about their organizations and opportunities, and recruiters and talent acquisition managers can use the platform to seek talent.  Profiles contain space for a banner photo, a headshot, a personal statement, work history, educational background, skills, volunteer experience, accomplishments, references, and interests – all of which combine into a personal sales piece that can be a go-to for recruiters and talent acquisition managers. “I've seen situations where candidates have sent their resumes across and the recruiters go straight to LinkedIn,” said former recruiter Schirell Sidney. “I have seen some recruiters that may not be as likely to call a person if they didn't have a LinkedIn profile.”  Sidney now works as a senior program manager with United Way of Greater Houston and will help Houston’s jobseekers use the platform to connect to good careers through the Houston Back on Track initiative.  Recruiters can search for talent with specific skillsets; users who have these skills listed on their profiles will appear in search results. Regina Mellinger, founder, owner, and president of the staffing firm Primary Services — a Houston Back on Track employer partner — said staffers and employers can work backwards and use the listed skills and previous work experience of high-performing employees to seek out new talent with similar skills and employment backgrounds.   A jobseeker can use their profile’s summary area to address a career change or resume gap, use the designated areas to list courses and certifications, even highlight volunteer work and passions. Important real estate on their profile also includes the profile picture and the cover photo. Use those to further extend the personal brand message, said Jill Chapman, a senior performance consultant for Insperity.   Users can follow companies that interest them and individuals they aspire to be like to learn about companies, organizations, and industries; this can be particularly beneficial for job candidates who are new to an industry or area of work. Chapman said interacting with these profiles and participating in industry discussions shows employers that a candidate is involved and interested in the area. An Opportunity for Dialogue and Learning  The platform may also help streamline communication between recruiters and candidates or other jobseekers. Recruiters can send direct messages to job candidates or potential candidates and users can message recruiters or other users to ask questions about an industry, company, or opportunity. Mellinger and Sidney acknowledged that LinkedIn’s internal messaging service can be frightening at first because uses may be wary of talking directly with recruiters. However, a user’s current employer cannot see messages and recruiters are happy to answer questions and discuss opportunities. Microsoft’s LinkedIn Learning platform provides additional advantages for jobseekers. The online learning platform offers a rich selection of courses and modules of varying lengths in a wide range of areas of professional development. Not only can users use the platform to learn and build skills, but they can add completed courses to their LinkedIn profiles. Learning through – and posting about – these courses can show how a candidate, and especially a career-changer, is working to bridge a skills gap, Chapman said, and signal to potential employers a candidate’s valuable growth mindset and ability to learn, take on new challenges, and develop professionally. Sidney believes posting these courses can also help unsure jobseekers build confidence – the sharpened skill gives them something to brag about.  “Anybody that’s afraid of LinkedIn has got to give it a try because they've been missing it, they are missing out,” she said.   The Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative works to strengthen the talent pipeline employers need to grow their businesses and to help all Houstonians build relevant skills and connect to good careers that increase their economic opportunity and mobility. Learn more here. Houston Back on Track is a job recovery initiative that helps connect workers displaced by the pandemic to coaching support, wraparound services, and short-term education they may need to help them get to the ‘front door’ of companies with good opportunities for long-term employment in in-demand roles. Learn more here.
Read More

Related Events