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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 Certain industries struggle with outdated perceptions about their work.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.

“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

Workforce Development

Education Benefits Propel Economic Mobility

11/30/20
Entry-level and frontline workers are generally in low paying jobs, but they can prepare for new or changing jobs or roles by gaining additional education or credentials – upskilling. Upskilling benefits both individuals and employers: Individuals can attain greater education and new credentials that open doors to greater employment opportunities (and with them, better pay and upward economic mobility); and employers that provide employees avenues to upskill can retain and develop talent, attract new talent, and boost morale within their businesses. Employers also benefit by the greater productivity of their incumbent workforce and increased retention saves on recruiting and other costs. Many employers provide opportunities for incumbent workers to upskill but do so by offering to reimburse an employee for program costs once the individual chooses and completes the program. Unfortunately, a large number of these workers never complete these programs, and the program may not align to durable skills that are transferable across roles in the company. Individuals, therefore, are not reimbursed—personally incurring the costs—and still lack a credential to move into a better paying occupation or role, according to Matthew Daniel, employer solutions principal consultant with Guild Education. The outlook for workers in these situations may seem bleak, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Daniel shared with a November UpSkill Works forum audience and host Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of regional workforce development and leader of the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative, several ways employers can think about and structure programs that can support employees to achieve better educational and skill development outcomes. Guild Education operates with a mission to unlock opportunities for America’s workforce through education. It works with Fortune 1000 employers to address skills gaps and recruitment challenges. It partners with non-profit universities to improve their enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Importantly, it focuses on retention at work and completion at school in order to drive outcomes and increase workplace mobility and economic opportunity for working adults, mainly frontline workers. (About 70 percent of frontline workers attended some college but lack a degree, and more than 20 percent live in poverty, according to Daniel.)  Guild has built effective programs with Disney, Chipotle and Walmart.  According to Daniel, by making education benefits easily accessible to employees, aligned with the skills needs of employers, and designed with employees needs in mind, employers can improve talent attraction and increase employee promotion and retention rates. Below are key takeaways from the conversation.   Coaching is Essential to Student Success Guild focuses on coaching employees as they move through the education process, starting with helping them identify programs in which to enroll, setting goals and submitting applications. Success coaches help students address time management and navigate support services, but they can also monitor student progress and help students remain in class. Guild also coaches exiting employees as they reskill for other roles or prepare resumes or for interviews.    Working adult learners have different needs and different expectations than more standard university students, he said, and the support individuals need – especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic changes – vary person to person.  “If you're providing education assistance to your students, to your employees, but you're not doing the wraparound services like coaching to support them, ultimately [employees] will fall out,” he said. “They drop out at alarmingly high rates.” Many who fail to complete these programs and incur the expense also end up leaving their employers, he said. When an employee leaves, an employer faces the additional costs to hire a replacement and get that new employee to full productivity. The incremental costs of supporting an employee to complete increases an employer’s return on investment for educational benefits.  Daniel shared that Guild sees about an 80 percent retention rate of adult learners staying in a program.   Build Education Around Skills Daniel highlighted that employers should take the time and energy to research what individuals need and build education programs and learning management systems around these needs. Employees are less likely to use systems that require them to search for programs, he said. Employers should explore both durable skills – ones that last in the long term – and perishable skills that last in the short term, as individuals may need skills to use a new process or tool (especially at the current rate of technological change in the workplace) but also ones that are transferrable across many roles in the company or in other industries. Customer service and being able to build and manage relationships ranks as the top skill employees need to have, Daniel said, noted the rising popularity of business leadership programs. People management and data analysis skills are in high demand, too. The ability to analyze and visualize data and to tell a story using data are now important to employees at every level of an organization.  Guild thinks of upskilling for three main organizational purposes: Improving performance through deeper expertise or advancement; reskilling to fill a talent gap via internal mobility or redeployment for hard-to-hire roles; and managing role transformation like a role redesign or to meet new needs brought in through digital transformation.   Create a Culture of Lifelong Learning Daniel spoke to the importance of securing buy-in for employee education from the top of an organization. Objections from immediate supervisors or managers can be a large barrier to program adoption, he said. “When a CEO stands at the front of the room and talks about what they're learning, not about what you should learn, but about what he or she is learning, it sets a tone in an organization. When the conversation becomes who's your mentor and who are you mentoring in the organization, it changes the dynamic,” he said.   Forge Partnerships with Local Providers Small businesses looking to upskill employees can partner with local providers, like community colleges. “If you're in one community and you're a smaller organization, pick up the phone and call your local universities. Call your local community colleges. Start to work with education providers who are down the street from you; they are willing. Many of them are willing to strike up partnerships where they can think about discounted tuition programs,” he said. Daniel has seen a desire among higher education institutions to build programs that satisfy the needs of their local communities, and they want to know how to do it, he said. “Those education partners are absolutely looking to build programs that are aligned with business needs to service you all in the community,” he said. See all past UpSkill Works forums.  
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Workforce Development

Community Based Organizations: Where Talent and Opportunity Meet

10/29/20
According to the new WorkingNation American Workers Survey, 56 percent of workers said they didn’t know whether there were local training programs nearby that could help them get the skills they need and into available jobs they might want. Workers who don’t know about these opportunities could be missing out on gaining the skills and credentials they need to grow their careers.  During an UpSkill Works Forum held in late October, leaders in three Houston area organizations that provide employment services, financial coaching and career readiness programs, along with an array of other services – Mary Silbert, Northwest Assistance Ministries learning center director; Samantha Sherman, Wesley Community Center chief program officer; and Eric Goodie, Houston Area Urban League area vice president of growth and sustainability – discussed how organizations such as theirs are uniquely equipped to help employers tap into talent and individuals follow pathways to good employment and greater economic opportunity. The session was hosted by Peter Beard, Partnership vice president of regional workforce development and leader of the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative. Northwest Assistance Ministries (NAM) offers an array of workforce development programs along with food, rent and housing assistance programs and family violence services as well as senior and pediatric health clinics. Wesley Community Center provides financial stability programs as well as family wraparound services ranging from an early childhood care center to food, rent and utilities services, to emergency financial assistance. Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), which is affiliated with the National Urban League, has a mission to empower African Americans and other minorities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights through education, housing, workforce development and training, and through health initiatives and entrepreneurship programs.  All three organizations are part of the United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE network, which helps families build stronger financial futures by acquiring skills and education, obtaining better jobs, developing good financial habits and building savings.   Organizations Focus on In-Demand Skill and Credentials Goodie, Silbert and Sherman shared how their organizations set up clients for success by providing career coaching and skills training.   HAUL runs an Urban Apprentice Jobs Program, designed to create apprenticeship pathways that connect underserved communities with nationally recognized credentials needed for high-growth, high-demand employment. Additionally, it operates an Urban Tech Jobs Program that provides certifications and instructs individuals how to use digital tools like Google Analytics, Amazon Web Service applications, CompTIA A+ Certification as well as National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) programs creating employment pathways in areas including construction, supply chain, petrochemical and manufacturing. Northwest Assistance Ministries offers training programs for administrative roles and health care roles, but, Silbert said, NAM emphasizes that individuals have to be lifelong learners and focus on their long-term goals, even if that means taking a job that may be in a field not directly connected with their immediate training program. Any experience or training will come in use in the future. “We have them constantly thinking about the next step, the next training, the next education. That's a conversation we have with clients from the very beginning,” Silbert said.   NAM programs also emphasize customer service as a key skill transferable across a number of positions and fields, she said. Goodie emphasized soft skills as a complement to occupational training insomuch as they will help individuals present themselves to employers in a virtual interview setting and help once someone is working for those employers remotely.   Relationships with Employers and Other Organizations Strengthen Coaching NAM, Wesley Community Center and HAUL have built relationships with employers that allow them to keep connected with changing employment or skill needs. The organizations use that intelligence to offer programs and services that align with employer demands.  These relationships have helped HAUL understand employers’ priority needs and whether their application processes have been streamlined. HAUL has also held specific recruitment events where employers and clients can speak specifically about opportunities and rigors of the roles on a very granular level. “It turns it into more of a career exploration, where the employer is really able to talk about their company, the career opportunities, opportunities for advancement [and answer] some specific granular questions about what the daily rigors of those jobs entail, and then, of course, how to apply,” Goodie said. The organizations have also built relationships throughout the larger ecosystem of organizations that provide essential services and support to individuals and families, allowing them to help clients solve or manage a variety of hurdles like finding childcare or obtaining transportation. “We have the relationships in the community to make it easier for our clients to access those resources and so find what they need now and to free up their time so they can do what's right in front of them today,” Sherman said. Client relationships do not end with employment, and the THRIVE network has helped organizations make referrals and continue supporting individuals. “Getting the job is not the end goal. It’s building the career, it’s building financial stability,” Sherman said. “It is staying with the client as they continue with the journey.”   COVID-19 Has Driven Coaching Adaptations Goodie, Sherman and Silbert shared how their organizations have adapted to meet the needs of clients and employers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Part of HAUL’s pivot included its shift to offering digital tool credentials, but it also incorporated mental wellness into its weekly employment orientation, Goodie said. The digital divide forced some programs to become hybrid ones and feature virtual components and physical textbooks. The pandemic forced Wesley Community Center and NAM to change how they assessed clients and their approach to coaching. Clients have had to adapt, too, Silbert said, like sharing computer equipment and resources with children and/or spouses.  “It’s rewarding to see our clients hang in with us and step up, and really continue with the programs and continue with training,” Silbert said.    Learn more about the UpSkill Houston initiative. View all past UpSkill Works Forums.
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Education

Re-Imagining Education and Career-Connected Learning — How Junior Achievement is Driving Opportunity for All

10/27/20
Career exploration and the skills to succeed have become a part of K-12 education across Texas over the last several years, but a new educational model within Houston Independent School District’s Stephen F. Austin High School is re-engineering high school education to make it more career relevant for students and increase their economic opportunity and prosperity. This school year, 3DE by Junior Achievement, an instructional model that utilizes competency-based case method to drive student engagement and academic performance, was launched within the school, expanding for students access and exposure to local employers and equipping them with knowledge and foundational skills for success in the business world. The 3DE model embeds career exploration and skills into educational curricula. Junior Achievement’s purpose is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy, and the 3DE model engages the business community in a very deep way, said Joseph Burke, president of Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas and member of the UpSkill Houston executive committee. “Kids are more poised to be able to transition into the workforce when they’ve been engaged [with the business world],” Burke said. The model builds student-centric education around project-based learning in which students work throughout the school year on a series of real-world questions presented by sponsor companies, like whether to host an event at a certain venue or how to effectively communicate in a digital environment. Students work on the cases in teams, are coached by company employees (who volunteer as mentors) and present their answers to their teachers. The top four teams pitch their cases to a panel of company representatives who judge them and select a winning team. In the 3DE model, students also typically complete rotations with the sponsor company to learn about different careers and the industry. During their senior year of high school, students will complete an internship or consultancies. Students not only learn about the wealth of local employment options, but they also learn about business culture. This model can help address a disturbing finding in the recent WorkingNation American Workers Survey conducted by Frank Luntz and his company FIL on behalf of WorkingNation: Nearly one in three adult workers (31 percent) polled said they had never spoken about their future careers with a teacher or a parent. The 3DE model draws out the authenticity of learning, putting it in context of higher order thinking skills, Burke said. Case study work is not just tacked on to regular school curricula, but rather, it is woven into language arts, social studies, science and math lessons for an interdisciplinary approach to learning.  In this way, the 3DE lead teacher and case study work are supported by other high school teachers, according to Andrea Aguilera, 3DE partnership director at Stephen F. Austin High School. “Students don’t have exposure to business title terminology like what is a CEO, a CFO, or COO. Our biology teacher made this case vocabulary relevant by aligning it to her TEKS and created a lesson on cells. The vocabulary is then aligned with cells, tissue, organs, and how they work as a team. For example, the nucleus acts like a CEO,” she said, adding that a social studies teacher is instructing students on how to create PowerPoint presentations, which the students will need to use for their presentations in the next 3DE judging. “By having other teachers create lessons that touch on aspects of the case challenge, students are seeing commonalities of our strategies, themes, and tools being used in every single one of their courses, and its being constantly reinforced,” Aguilera said. 3DE launched in Fulton County Schools’ Benjamin Banneker High School, just outside of Atlanta, in 2015. In the years since, the school has seen significant gains in student performance and future opportunity including a 47 percent increase in its four-year graduation rate (to 92 percent), according to Junior Achievement. Students in 3DE cohorts across multiple schools have improved attendance. They are chronically absent about 38 percent less of the time than their host school peers, according to the organization. The 3DE model is now operating within 23 schools across the country. It was the success seen at Banneker High School in terms of student achievement, reduced absenteeism and greater teacher retention that made Jeff Miers support bringing the model to Houston. Miers was a Junior Achievement board member and an Accenture managing director at the time and recognized how the model fit with the consulting company’s “Skills to Succeed” commitment to empower people to change their lives. He also saw it as an exciting opportunity to transform the way Houston students learn. Accenture, Deloitte and Quanta Services are among the local employers that are sponsoring 3DE case studies. About 170 ninth graders at Austin High School (or, roughly 36 percent of the entire ninth grade class) make up the first 3DE cohort. The cohort purposefully mirrors the wider school demographics in terms of ethnic or racial makeup, background and academic achievement to about 5 percent, according to Burke. This helps gauge model effectiveness but also opens the door for students who lack the social networks or connections that can open doors to employment and opportunity. “The opportunity to interact and understand what companies are doing and working on real business problems opens the window into professions that underprivileged students might not otherwise see,” Miers said. The business coaches and judges represent a diverse population, come from different backgrounds and followed different pathways into their careers, Aguilera said. In short: they look like the students. “Sometimes for students the business world appears so far away and can seem unattainable and so what these business professionals are doing is showing students, ‘we were once where you were and you can also get here,’” Aguilera said.  Partnering to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace is more critical than ever, Burke said. “If we want to make diversity and inclusion gains then we have to begin with our education, and it needs to begin with the public schools,” he said. Learn more about 3DE by Junior Achievement.
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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 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.

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