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Manufacturing Employment
213,100+

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 Certain industries struggle with outdated perceptions about their work.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.

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 UpSkillMyLife.org. 

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.

“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

“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

“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

Digital Technology

Connecting the Dots to Help Get Houston Back on Track

9/27/21
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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Economic Development

Education & Workforce Council: Supporting an Inclusive Energy Workforce Recovery 

9/20/21
Eighteen months ago, record job losses were recorded across the Houston region. Nationally, unemployment due to the effects of COVID-19 in 2020 disproportionately affected communities of color, women, and workers with a high school diploma or who had attended some college or held an associate level degree. As of this summer, roughly 58 percent of jobs lost in March and April 2020 in Houston have been regained. During the Partnership’s September Education & Workforce Council, Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of Regional Workforce Development, Jose Beceiro, Partnership senior director of Global Energy 2.0, and Dr. Allatia Harris, vice chancellor of Strategic Initiatives at San Jacinto College, shared initiatives underway that support inclusive job recovery and workforce development, and the transition of oil and gas workers to new, Energy 2.0 roles in the wake of the pandemic and changing energy market. Getting Houston Back on Track Beard discussed the Partnership’s work with employers, nonprofit partners in United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE network and others, and community colleges to develop the new job recovery initiative Houston Back on Track. This initiative connects 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. At present, employment areas comprise of healthcare, transportation and warehousing, and customer service and support, including for information technology areas and within Energy 2.0 companies. The initiative is seeking additional employment partners.  “We have a huge opportunity in Houston to come together and work with our neighbors and with our education and community partners to create pipelines into the roles that our employers need to have filled,” Beard said. Leveraging a Strong Energy Workforce Despite the pandemic and a downturn in the energy market, Houston remains a vibrant, global, and leading energy economy, and Beceiro shared how the Partnership and the region have been able to leverage its energy workforce to attract Energy 2.0 companies. “We're seeing a trend now of non-traditional or new energy tech projects and companies finding a home in Houston to take advantage of the energy talent that we have,” he said. Houston and the Partnership have recently recruited energy transition incubators and companies, such as Greentown Labs and Unity Global, attracted to the region due to its tech and energy talent. Displaced oil and gas workers are finding new opportunities within new, rapidly growing energy sectors including hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy areas including solar, wind, and battery energy storage, he said noting how skill sets could transfer from one industry to another. Cloud service providers have recently sought talent from Houston’s oil and gas sector, too, he said. Building Talent for the Future San Jacinto College recognized that its students were facing more challenges, from funding and childcare needs to food insecurities; Harris described how the college helped meet those needs through a variety of initiatives and funding opportunities including the 21Forward Scholarship, the Promise @ San Jac program, grants for childcare assistance, and a fast track tuition discount for credit and non-credit programs that prepare students for in-demand careers.  Harris noted an uptick in workforce program enrollments and an unprecedented, 60 percent increase in enrollment for college preparation and development courses such as reading and writing, developmental math, and college readiness. She hypothesized that the change was related to the shift from traditional classroom settings to online or non-traditional settings in high schools.  “We’re just going to have to work harder to find the ways to build those basic literacy skills so that the students can master the other skills that prepare them to be what our employers need them to be,” she said. Seeking and Retaining a Skilled Workforce Employers increasingly need a workforce with digital skills, who can manage spreadsheets and customer relationship management systems, and are proficient in business management programs and software. They also understand that employees can learn various technical skills on the job, so they’re seeking talent with the soft skills that show that they can learn and grow, Beard said. He pointed to a trend of employers investing into talent in new ways, like through tuition benefits to support learning and growth that make employees more versatile and that, in turn, help with retention. Beceiro added that employers see how a good quality of life plays into recruiting and keeping talent. San Jacinto’s students represent the future workforce. They’re eager to learn and can learn but, Harris said, like the workforce across various age groups, they need confidence that things will be okay and they need support. “The future is bright, but there’s a lot of work and a lot of caring [needed] for us to get there,” she said. Learn more about the Partnership’s Houston Back on Track job recovery initiative here. See how the Partnership is leading the global energy transition here.
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Economic Development

Understanding Houston's Jobseekers to Aid Recovery

9/13/21
Jobseekers across greater Houston are fresh faces, hard workers, resilient, and survivors. They are tenacious, they are hopeful, and they want to develop the skills to get good jobs.  Despite the region’s substantial job recovery – with nearly 60 percent of the 361,400 nonfarm jobs lost over March and April 2020 recovered by July 2021 – full recovery of Houston’s labor market to February 2020 levels is not likely until late 2022 at the earliest, according to the July Houston Area Employment Situation. The impacts of the pandemic on the nature of work and the skills needed to be successful in a post-pandemic economy will take months and years to understand. Generally, there is a need for increased digital and technology skills and employers are seeking workers with strong foundational and soft skills such as communications, customer service, problem-solving and critical thinking.  It is clear that Houston’s under- and unemployed residents – the tenacious, hopeful jobseekers striving to get better jobs – will remain a sizeable portion of the population. 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. Employers can use personas to develop better ways to market job opportunities and to explore how they can meet the needs of jobseekers during the hiring and onboarding process. Community organizations can use personas to construct user journeys that highlight pain points, anticipate jobseeker challenges, and consider system-level changes that can be made to align the efforts across organizations in service of the end user. Personas illuminate the concerns and anxieties that weigh on jobseekers, and understanding these emotions and experiences enables more effective communication.  For example, career coaches and counselors who understand that individuals may feel stuck in jobs that lack purpose can frame potential jobs differently to highlight the importance and meaning of these roles, such as by noting how society is being served by the work or how others in the organization all share the same mission, said Rice University School of Social Sciences professor and workforce expert Fred Oswald. “If you really want to understand whether an application is going to be effective, you really need to understand the context of the individual and what motivates them,” he said.  In addition, people change their preferences about what is meaningful to them, employers are using new technology that redefines what jobs are, and applicants are redefining themselves through education, suggesting there is opportunity to design efforts to connect in a way that is meaningful to jobseekers and employers, Oswald said. Personas can help create a common language between organizations. Shafer posited that organizations and employers do not have to embark on months-long studies to derive personas; personas can be drawn through a few strategic conversations with individuals. Hope, Support, and Where to Find Them Shafer also shared an underlying current of hope, but also of loneliness – a sense of going it alone – that ran through her research interviews. This underscores the need for individuals to feel supported as workforce recovery continues. Connecting individuals to communities where they will not feel lonely can help fortify that hope, said Greg Hambrick, CEO of Fast Forward Works, a company that uses a cloud-based application that efficiently captures the individual innate abilities and dispositions associated with most jobs. 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. The WorkFaith Connection’s faith-based training and coaching programs all point to providing “the hope and the how,” said Matt Killian, its chief operating officer. They both recognized Shafer’s fresh face, mayday mom, Houston strong, and wise and worried personas among their clients but noted that each came with their own unique experiences and stories. McMillian said that making sure agency partners have navigators who can help clients along their journeys is a critical feature of United Way’s second century vision, which is focused on addressing the roots of the complex challenges that are holding people back from that opportunity and from achieving and getting down the path to financial stability.  McMillian said United Way sees the greatest success with agencies that take a hands-on approach and make sure clients know the resources available to them and follow up with them. “You're not just providing access, you are providing hope, you are providing guidance,” 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. See previous UpSkill Works forums here.
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Executive Committee
Sector Leadership
UpSkill Houston Team

UpSkillHouston.org

Career information for job seekers, educators and partners.

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UpSkillMyLife.org

Video series introducing careers and the pathways to entry.

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PetrochemWorks.com

Tool to match skills with careers in the petrochemical manufacturing industry

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Major Funding Partners

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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.

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View Past Editions of the UpSkill Update Newsletter

AUG
2021
Understanding & tapping into today's talent and tomorrow's
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JUL
2021
Houston a leader in innovative recovery initiatives
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JUN
2021
Apprenticeships and developing the future workforce to aid recovery
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MAY
2021
How employers will view talent and skills in post-pandemic economy; Plus UpSkill Works Forum returns
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APR
2021
Employment recovery; Secrets to Starting your career right revealed
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MAR
2021
Unemployment revisited; Legislative update; Employer-education partnerships
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FEB
2021
Texas plans recovery efforts, builds workforce strategies
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JAN
2021
Economic recovery underscores urgency in upskilling
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NOV
2020
Spotlight on higher ed, adult learners
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OCT
2020
Re-imagining career-relevant education; Student awareness of good careers
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SEP
2020
COVID-19 & innovation in career exploration; Talent Finance initiative
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AUG
2020
New "My Life As..." career stories; Houston expands digital alliance; talent finance discussions
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JUL
2020
Navigating the changing nature of work; Reskilling through higher ed
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JUN
2020
COVID-19 impact on Houston’s workforce; HCC unveils job-connected training portal
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MAY
2020
COVID-19 presents short-term problems, long-term opportunities; New funding for workforce development announced
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APR
2020
UpSkill Houston partners on animated soft skill series
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MAR
2020
COVID-19 and workforce disruption
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FEB
2020
Career coaching outcomes examined; Transportation leaders eye education programs
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JAN
2020
Putting talent first and making Houston a great global city; Connecting with jobseekers
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DEC
2019
UpSkill Houston drives action, looks ahead to the future
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NOV
2019
UpSkill benefits from elite fellowship program
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OCT
2019
Embracing change to create a competitive edge; Leadership reviews new 5-year plan
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