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Manufacturing Employment

Houston has one of the largest manufacturing workforces in the country

UpSkill Houston Fuels a Stronger Economy with Greater Opportunity

Employers across Greater Houston are looking to hire qualified residents for good-paying careers that require skills beyond high school, but less than a four-year college degree. Nearly 1 million such positions exist, and the number is projected to grow. Yet employers face difficulties finding workers to fill these occupations. 

Through research, analysis, and engagement with critical stakeholders, UpSkill Houston understands the barriers to attracting, training, and placing qualified workers in these careers. UpSkill Houston brings stakeholders together and helps them:

UpSkill Houston challenges employers, educators, community-based leaders, and public officials to join us in accelerated, collective action to grow the skilled workforce Houston needs to compete in the global, 21st century economy and create opportunity for all Houstonians. 

UpSkill Houston has emerged as a leader for bold change by orchestrating the direct impact necessary to create a pipeline of skilled workers for the region’s employers and better pathways to prosperity for the region’s residents. Our progress, approach, and framework have served as the inspiration or model for workforce development initiatives in Texas and across the country. Learn more here. 


Factors Affecting the Growth of a Skilled Workforce

Employers across Greater Houston are looking to hire qualified area residents for good paying, rewarding careers that require skills beyond high school, but less than a four-year college degree. Of the more than 3.1 million workers in Greater Houston, more than 920,000 or 30 percent are employed in occupations meeting these criteria. The region’s recent overall rapid job growth included meaningful growth in these occupations, and this trend is expected to continue over the next five years.

Yet employers are facing difficulties finding workers with the skills and education to fill these positions. There is a strong push for students to pursue four-year college degrees. Certain industries struggle with outdated perceptions about their work. Effective career guidance for these careers is lacking. Also, current workers who are unemployed or under-employed face multiple challenges as they seek to upskill and reskill into these occupations.

Further, Houston’s economy and industries are being reshaped by technology and other global forces at a more rapid pace than ever before, impacting talent needs. As technology affects all jobs — creating new ones, augmenting others, and automating some — digital skills will increasingly be a requirement in all occupations. In addition, employers are placing a premium on soft and noncognitive skills.

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UpSkill Houston Facilitates Workforce Conversations

UpSkill Houston launched its UpSkill Works Forum Series to foster workforce development discussions and actions across greater Houston’s employer, education and non-profit communities by presenting conversations with regional business, education and community leaders, policy makers and high-profile thought leaders on the key workforce issues the greater Houston region confronts. The series supports and advances the initiative’s work to help employers identify the key skills they need for workers to be successful, provide relevant information about careers and pathways, and drive effective career guidance.

UpSkill Houston Unites Partners to Overcome Barriers

The Greater Houston Partnership believes that broad and meaningful employer leadership is necessary to bridge the divide between employers’ demands and workforce needs. The Partnership committed to address the region’s skills gap by establishing the UpSkill Houston initiative to help employers find the right talent when and where they are needed and to help individuals gain the right skills and credentials to access the good jobs employers offer. 

Since 2014, UpSkill Houston has mobilized leaders from more than 200 prominent businesses, K-12 districts, community colleges, community-based organizations, and public agencies to work collectively to understand — and overcome — the barriers to attracting, training, placing, and growing qualified workers in good careers that are vital to the region’s global competitiveness.

Already UpSkill Houston and its partners have demonstrated how, working collectively, they can prepare incoming workers for good careers in vital industries, reskill incumbent workers for changing occupations, create shared prosperity for area families, and enable high-demand industries to thrive. 

Examples of efforts by UpSkill Houston and it partners to address talent pipeline challenges, include: 

ATTRACT: Working initially with partners in the construction, health science, petrochemical, and transportation industries, UpSkill Houston has created a series of videos and resources that showcase for students, parents, and workers seeking new opportunities a variety of good careers that don’t require a four-year college degree. The videos are available at 

TRAIN: MAREK recently partnered with Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College (HCC) to enable high school students to earn industry-recognized Level 1 certificates from HCC and drywall credentials through work experience at MAREK by the time they graduate with their high school diplomas. MAREK’s pre-apprenticeship program is patterned after a similar program developed by TRIO Electric with HCC and Spring Branch Independent School District. 

PLACE:  Since its founding in 2014, NextOp has placed approximately 2,100 “middle-enlisted” veterans — most without a four-year college degree — in meaningful careers, by connecting employers’ need for job-ready candidates with service members’ ability to succeed at a different mission, with different resources. NextOp helps employers recognize veterans’ talents and notice them in a candidate pool, while coaching veterans to describe their skills in a way employers value. 


UpSkill Houston and its partners have built a strong foundation, yet there is more work to be done. We need employers to articulate, with a collective voice, the skills and competencies they need in their workers. We need educational partners to adapt and improve curricula and prepare students for the good jobs that don’t require four years of college. We need community-based organizations to continuously improve their programs that prepare their clients for these good jobs.
Through UpSkill Houston programs, regional leaders share ideas with national thought leaders, such as Joseph B. Fuller, Harvard Business School professor and co-director of the school’s Managing the Future of Work project.

“We all go to lots of meetings where we talk about what needs to be fixed but rarely do individuals own the work to make something happen. It’s very impressive how UpSkill Houston has been able to bring everyone together to accomplish common goals.”

Linda Aldred
Texas Children’s Hospital

“The minute I heard there was an opportunity to leverage what the Greater Houston Partnership was doing to make our industry better and our company better, joining UpSkill Houston was a no-brainer.”

Daniel M. Gilbane
Gilbane Building Co.

“I am sitting in Alief Independent School District watching my students' lives change because of efforts like this.”

HD Chambers
Alief Independent School District

“UpSkill Houston helped us build relationships across sectors and made sure we were all talking about the same issues.”

Brenda Hellyer
San Jacinto Community College

Continued National Acclaim for UpSkill Houston

UpSkill Houston has been cited as an exemplar by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Talent Pipeline Management Initiative, the Communities that Work Partnership of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Aspen Institute, the Global Cities Initiative of the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase, and United Way Worldwide. UpSkill Houston has hosted business and community leaders from Phoenix; Detroit; Tampa Bay, Fla.; and Buffalo-Niagara, NY to learn about our employer-led approach. Our work has been featured in The Houston ChronicleHouston Business JournalForbesThe Hill, and U.S. News & World Report. Our partners have received extensive coverage for their workforce development and educational advancement efforts from local and national press.

Recent News

COVID-19 Drives Innovative Approach to Career Exploration 

When schools paused classroom learning and on-campus activities and businesses limited the number of individuals allowed in their offices and facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, it disrupted the various approaches used to introduce students and parents to good careers in Houston. Job and career fairs, internships and hands-on lab work all went on hiatus.  Effective career exploration and internship opportunities are essential in helping students recognize a wealth of career options and choices and connect to the education and skills pathways for those careers.  According to WorkingNation’s recent American Workers Survey, 31 percent of adult workers say they never spoke with a parent or teacher when they were younger about their career plans and how to achieve them. Providing opportunities for students to explore and try out careers and learn from industry professionals can have a profound effect on those students’ lives. They not only help students recognize otherwise unknown career options but also help them make informed education and career decisions. Studies from the Brookings Institution show that low-income youth were much more likely to be working in a well-paying job by the time they were adults if they had been involved with “relationship-based career and technical education programs” that involved work-oriented mentorship from an adult.   “Enabling students to try out careers is instrumental to helping them identify and follow career pathways that lead to good lives for them and for their families. Many of UpSkill Houston’s employer partners understand the importance of and support efforts that provide access to career-connected learning opportunities,” said Peter Beard, who, as the Partnership’s senior vice president of Regional Workforce Development, leads the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative. As schools and businesses adapted in order to carry on operations, so have career exploration programs.  BridgeYear is one of them. The nonprofit and UpSkill Houston initiative partner connects underserved youth to careers and education beyond high school. BridgeYear had to rethink its immersive Career Test Drive® (CTD) Fair approach to career exploration while staying true to its hands-on model. In about three months, the organization shrank its in-person program into activities that fit inside 12-inch by 12-inch by 6-inch boxes – or even smaller envelopes – and could be delivered directly to students’ homes. BridgeYear piloted its new Career Test Drive® Kits with 49 students this summer and is currently building 1,500 more for school distribution in October. “Students need hands-on experiences to ‘try on’ and make sense of careers rather than just hearing abstractly about them,” said BridgeYear co-founder and Executive Director Victoria Chen. During an average BridgeYear CTD Fair, about 200 to 300 students work through CTD Modules set up in a school gymnasium to try their hands at high-growth, high-demand careers ranging from web developer to HVAC technician to phlebotomist while learning about the steps needed to enter the field. Since its founding in 2016, the organization has engaged more than 15,000 students through the fairs and its Advising program.  Prior to developing the pilot, BridgeYear held listening sessions with high school college and career counselors to understand the realities and challenges of counseling, including connecting with students for scheduled sessions and making personal connections with new students through a virtual medium. The BridgeYear team members determined CTD Fairs were unlikely to continue this fall, and they wanted to help the counselors overcome the new challenges of distance learning. The BridgeYear team drew inspirations from consumer brands like Blue Apron, Warby Parker and Stitch Fix, which offer a service and products tailored to the individual and sent right to customers at home. (“We like having a personalized box shipped right to our door to help us make decisions,” Chen said about the consumer trend.) Each Career Kit comes with materials needed to complete a simulation. Students then attend one-hour virtual sessions with an industry professional to discuss the activity and next steps along the career pathway, such as post-secondary programs. Unlike BridgeYear’s fairs, which feature six careers out of 17 the organization highlights, kits are industry-based and introduce students to two different in-demand careers in each industry. One activity mimics a laboratory setting and another an administrative or desk setting. The Healthcare Career Kit, for instance, features a medical laboratory technician simulation that challenges students to identify a patient’s blood type and then assess whether potential donors are matches, and the health information technician simulation features aspects of billing and coding. Another example is the Construction & Design Career Kit, which includes an electrician simulation requiring students to connect a light bulb to two different switches. Students must also design a kitchen layout in the designer simulation while learning guidelines set by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), a corporate sponsor.  Each Career Kit also comes with an instructional video, which is filmed in a TikTok style, showing a near peer engaging with the kit and its activities for a more youth-focused approach to instruction and career exploration. Chen said more than 80 percent of the students who participated in the summer Career Kit pilot reported that they were interested in one of the careers they tested. She believes the kit activities helped students verify their career choices in industries they were already interested in.  BridgeYear currently offers two Career Test Drive® Kits but is working with – and seeking – new partners to develop more experiences and highlight careers in other industries. The organization seeks industry volunteers for its Advising LIVE sessions as well as corporate partners that can provide kit materials or logistics support. Learn more about the program at UpSkill Houston works with employers, educators and community-based leaders to strengthen the talent pipeline our region’s employers need and to help Houstonians connect to good jobs that increase their economic opportunity and prosperity.  
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Workforce Development

Partnership Joins U.S. Chamber in Drive for Innovative Talent Finance Solution

In the new innovation-based economy, talent and skills are king. Today’s economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation where the skills needed by a workforce to remain competitive and successful are rapidly changing and emerging to keep pace with these dynamic and swift changes. As the “half-life” of skills shrinks, continuous investment in talent and skill development will become more crucial, timely – and challenging. We need, therefore, an approach to talent finance fit for our time, not one for past economies and labor markets. Current conversations around funding center on government programs and services, like federal and state funding for higher education and workforce development programs. The current model focuses on preparing students to enter the workforce through college pathways or on helping adults overcome barriers to re-entering the workforce in jobs similar to their previous ones. This approach separates work from learning and increases the time it takes for students to become workers while increasing training costs for employers. It also doesn’t address the dislocation of existing workers due to automation technologies that are entering and disrupting the workplace. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the federal government spends nearly $30 billion in Pell grants and finances more than $100 million in loans each year. In addition, $18 billion is spent on workforce programs that fail to reach the majority of their targeted workers or provide them with training for skills employers actually need. While employers have been major investors in the training of their workforce, there has also been a leveling off or decline in these training investments. As talent rises in importance in this new economy, employers and workers, states and regions will increasingly compete in areas like innovation, agility and resilience to constant and disruptive changes, and an approach to talent finance that perpetuates the status quo will not be sufficient. Employers, workers and governments will need to redefine their roles and responsibilities in terms of making investment and managing and sharing risk. As we look to the future, what our innovation-based economy needs is an agile and responsive public-private approach to the financing of talent that strikes the appropriate balance between the roles of employers, workers and government. It should also promote the continuous investment in skills development while managing the risks related to employment and income. It also needs to be scalable to work for employers large and small, because half of the workforce is employed by small and mid-sized employers. Ultimately, a talent finance approach should reflect a set of guiding principles and close the economic and opportunity gaps that exist today.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is launching a new initiative to build an innovative talent finance approach that fits the modern, changing economy and nature of work. The Chamber and several partners, including the Greater Houston Partnership, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and WorkingNation, are exploring this new public-private approach to talent finance – one that would support an economy that competes on talent and expands opportunity and inclusion in the new economy. The Chamber Foundation and its partners will release a background paper describing the framework for developing this new public-private approach on Sept. 22. It will hold a series of topical forums in September and October to gather feedback on the paper and build awareness of the opportunities and potential for testing innovative partnerships in regional markets. Forum participants will include representatives from the Chamber community and financial services sector; experts from the fields of finance and lending, data and technology, and HR and accounting; and representatives of prominent think tanks and foundations exploring employer-led investment strategies and tools. The Chamber hopes to enable and proliferate new pathways to opportunity with products that are equity-based and drive outcomes that truly are accessible to all. “We think that talent financing is going to be a critical piece to closing that opportunity gap,” said Jason A. Tyszko, vice president of the Center of Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, during a recent Chamber talent finance discussion. “Now is the time to invest,” Tyszko said. “This is the conversation of our time.” Join the movement and register for Talent Finance forum sessions here.  
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Houston Can Create Purposeful Pathways to Opportunity and Recovery

Pathways that help people access opportunities have to be created with purpose.  In late July, Marcela Escobari and Ian Seyal of the Brookings Institution’s Workforce of the Future Initiative joined the Partnership’s Peter Beard in a discussion about urban strategies for inclusive economic growth that help displaced and low-wage workers transition upward into good jobs. During this UpSkill Works Forum event, Escobari and Seyal describe their work, analysis and tools focused on helping local policy makers and companies strengthen the regional economy, provide good jobs and support workers transitioning into those jobs. “How you create pathways for people to access those opportunities has to be very purposeful,” Escobari said. “Our data show that there are pockets of opportunity even amidst this contraction, as well as long term strategic industries that will grow certain occupations, but you need to make those opportunities explicit and create those pathways and […] you need a responsive reskilling infrastructure.” A recording of the full conversation between Escobari, Seyal and Beard can be viewed on YouTube.  Key Take-Aways:  Low-wage workers tend to cycle from job to job without seeing much wage growth while high-skilled and high-wage jobs offer security and economic mobility.  Forces like automation, digitization and the rise of contract work will continue to create bifurcation and accelerate due the COVID-19 pandemic, but reskilling can help.  Public and private financial support for reskilling and upskilling is at an all-time low.  Internal job transitions data reveal some feeder occupations employers can use to transition low-wage workers to better jobs.  Vulnerable workers urgently need help getting back on their feet, and places can adopt strategies to protect vulnerable workers and limit unemployment.  Barbell economy creates mobility challenges for low-wage workers Marcela Escobari, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Workforce of the Future initiative, opened the discussion and explored the interconnected questions of how to grow good jobs and recover from the contraction driven by COVID-19; how to help individuals transition into higher-paying jobs (or reenter the workforce in light of the pandemic); and what policies can make these transitions possible. Escobari reviewed data-driven approaches that can help Houston could build back better, based on the research found in the initiative’s Growing Cities that Work for All report. Understanding the inherent industrial and occupational capabilities a city has today provides insights about capabilities that may be shared by other industries that are likely to thrive in the future. Specifically, cities should be able to identify and grow industries that have occupational similarities and are likely to emerge and colocate based on shared occupational needs.     She also described a bifurcation of the economy resulting in an upper tier of high-skilled, high-wage jobs that offer security, stability and opportunities for advancement and a lower tier of low-wage jobs often held by workers who lack the social networks, resources, knowledge and skilling to move out of low-wage work. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, about 53 million Americans held low-wage jobs, meaning they earned less than $16 an hour. This equated to roughly 44 percent of the workforce, varying from about 30 percent to 62 percent depending on the city. Data show that these workers – along with those who earned between $19 and $24 per hour – tended to cycle from job to job without seeing much wage growth. About 63 percent of these workers tended to earn the same amount or less when they switched jobs, Escobari said.  Forces like automation, digitization and the rise of contract work will continue to create this bifurcation, “unless we actively are able to move people into this middle-skill [area] and create more of these middle-skill jobs,” she said. However, internal employer-based training has been stagnant or declining, and government investment in the labor market has dwindled over the last 40 years. In 2017, federal funding for workforce development had declined to about a quarter of what it had been in the late 1970s, she said.  “The federal funding for helping people transition is at an all-time low while the need for these digital skills at every level of work – low-skill, middle-skill – has increased in every job category,” she said. Research in Brookings’ Realism about Reskilling report, released in 2019, explores these trends,  shows the probabilities for advancement in certain occupations, and discusses reskilling interventions that can help workers transition out of low-wage jobs. The report also includes an “end-to-end reskilling journey” framework to provide holistic support for workers as they seek to upgrade their skills and advance in the economy.  “We're hoping that these data can help folks navigate and see a sense of possibility of what decisions are actually possible,” she said. “We want people to be able to escape that low-wage occupation and find the stepping-stones to a higher wage [jobs],” she said. These data can also help employers identify viable pathways for workers to advance through their organizations with the help of internal training and investment, lessening the need to recruit from outside. Vulnerable jobs and reskilling opportunities Ian Seyal, Project Manager and Research Analyst on Brookings’ Workforce of the Future team, highlighted an interactive tool – “Visualizing Vulnerable Jobs Across America” – which the initiative released in July to help policymakers understand their local economies and remain attentive to job quality as they build long-term recovery strategies. Vulnerable jobs are ones that pay less than the median wage (adjusted for location) and are not covered by employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. In 2018, roughly 19 percent of jobs in the U.S. could be classified as vulnerable; in Houston it jumps to 22.9 percent – nearly a quarter of all jobs. Many of these jobs are concentrated in hospitality, entertainment retail sectors – among those most affected by the pandemic. Strategic employee sharing can be one approach to protect workers and help limit unemployment. Escobari emphasized that employers can use job transition data to identify where talent is becoming available from contracting sectors to meet labor demands in expanding sectors. Employers can then collaborate to reskill those workers as needed – especially as the pandemic shifts economic demands.    Learn more about the Brookings Institution’s Workforce of the Future initiative. The UpSkill Works Forum Series presents interviews with regional business, education and community leaders, policy makers, and high-profile thought leaders on key workforce issues the greater Houston region confront. View recordings of the complete series on YouTube.   
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Executive Committee
Sector Leadership
UpSkill Houston Team

Career information for job seekers, educators and partners.

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Video series introducing careers and the pathways to entry.

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Tool to match skills with careers in the petrochemical manufact...

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Major Funding Partners

Additional Resources

Find reports and other information and resources tied to UpSkill Houston. 

This report highlights the disruption that greater automation and increased requirements for digital skills is causing for regional workers and the importance of helping workers build digital skills and identify career progressions for occupations that can lead to economic opportunity.

A recent labor market report underscores the long-term and critical role of middle-skill occupations in positioning the Houston region to be competitive in the 21st century and creating economic opportunity for its residents.

This series presents conversations with business and community leaders, policy makers, and leading thinkers on the key workforce issues confronting the Greater Houston region.

Business, education, and community organization leaders highlight how participating in the Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative has strengthened workforce development efforts through collaborative action.

This labor market study highlights the prevalence and growth of middle-skill jobs within Greater Houston’s economy and analyzes how automation and increased digital skills are transforming the nature of work.

This video from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation shows how UpSkill is leading the way to close the skills gap using lessons learned in supply chain management.

UpSkill Houston's "My Life As" campaign provides stories of workers in high demand, growth opportunity careers.

By contributing to the Employer Champion Campaign, companies are setting Houston on a better path and improving the skilled workforce and economy for generations to come.

A comprehensive look at the work and results of UpSkill Houston.

Executive Partners