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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 Certain industries struggle with outdated perceptions about their work.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.

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

Economist: Signs of Workforce Recovery in Houston Amid Pandemic

Earlier this year, the Gulf Coast Workforce Board’s principal economist Parker Harvey described the toll the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil downturn had already taken on Greater Houston’s regional economy. The disruptions to the regional labor market were unprecedented but Harvey had begun to see encouraging signs that a turnaround was coming through a decrease in the number employers removing job postings. On June 25, Harvey shared his most recent insights with Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of Regional Workforce Development. Harvey’s visit was on the eve of new orders from Governor Greg Abbott to close bars and similar establishments and to reduce restaurant dine-in capacities to 50 percent (down from 75 percent capacity) due to a surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.  Here are the key takeaways from the conversation:  May job gains exceed expectations Harvey expected data from the region’s May jobs report to show continued losses. However, the data imply that one out of every five of the 350,000 jobs lost between March and April were recovered. Industries with job gains included: Leisure and hospitality (39,800 jobs, or 31 percent of lost jobs, returning); Education and health services (24,500 jobs, or 52 percent of lost jobs, returning); Trade, transportation, and utilities (14,000 jobs, or 29 percent of lost jobs, returning); and Construction (8, 100 jobs, or 26 percent of jobs returning). Harvey pointed to restrictions of elective surgeries as an indication of a possible trend shift on the horizon. “Obviously, the situation continues to evolve, and the headline just shows just how quickly things can alter the trajectory of the recovery at this point,” Harvey said. Areas with continuing job losses included government, with a loss of 8,100 jobs, and mining and logging, with a loss of 6,400 jobs. May is not typically a high month for government job loss, but this year bucked the trend. Harvey said he believes the losses were tied to the absence of door-to-door decennial U.S. Census-takers and the movement of seasonal state and local government education job losses from June to May. In April, Harvey pointed to the number of jobs being posted as one measure that would indicate a turn in the economy. Weekly analysis of these postings has lost much of its informative value due to its inherently volatile nature in general and exacerbated by a sudden disappearance of one out of every five postings on May 28. Harvey noted the uncertainty of whether the decline was a meaningful retrenchment on the part of employers or results to changes in the data collection process. However, on a month-over-month basis, he noted that the number of ad postings slowly began to slowly increase in early May, culminating in nearly every job sector and every occupational family displaying an increase over the 30-day period between May 24 and June 23, compared to April 23 to May 23. Harvey said it was an encouraging sign.  The most notable gains came in the transportation and warehousing, health care and personal care. In April, Harvey said that increases in job postings were found across a much broader range of employers regardless of the sector compared to observations made during the previous forum on April 30th. Even still, as of June 23, Harvey saw roughly 88,258 regional job ads, compared with 150,140 on June 23, 2019 – a decrease of about 40 percent. Unemployment rates high but show decline Harvey said he anticipates seeing the unemployment rate in May to rise four or five percentage points above its April rate. Instead, that rate dropped from just above 14 percent in April to just below 14 percent in May. A household survey put the total number of unemployed individuals at around 463,000 in May. The average unemployment rate across the Gulf Coast Workforce Board’s 13-county region decreased slightly, from 14.1 percent in April to 13.9 percent in May. This follows record-breaking and anomalous county-specific unemployment increases seen between March and April. Five counties within the region experienced unemployment rate increases between April and May while eight experienced decreases. All but two cities in the region for with the Workforce Board has data experienced unemployment decreases as well. These increases were seen in Baytown, which traditionally has the region’s highest unemployment rate, and Lake Jackson. Galveston City experienced the largest unemployment rate decrease. The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance being filed weekly has steadily declined since their apex of 77,000 in early April. Weekly initial claims have fallen 70 percent, with only about 22,500 new claimed filed during the week of June 13 – even so, this figure is about four times higher than it would have been without the pandemic. Harvey suggests that “in essence we are flying blind,” when analyzing the unemployment rate in light of initial and continuing claims for unemployment insurance as indicators for the unemployment rate. May national jobs report Harvey expected to see the national May jobs report to show the unemployment rate increase to 19 percent based on consensus estimates leading up to its release. Instead, that rate reportedly dropped to 13.3 percent, with about 2.5 million jobs reportedly created. At the same time, between 10 million and 13 million new unemployment insurance claims were filed between the April and May jobs reports. What’s more, expanded unemployment insurance benefits coupled with the reluctance of some workers to return to due to COVID-19, likely disincentivized at least some workers from resuming their previous roles. Though it might be tempting to attribute unemployment decreases in the Galveston area to the resumption of leisure and hospitality business, Harvey noted that reopen dates span a six week period between May 1 and June 12, while the national jobs report survey has a week-long reporting period during the middle of May and so the dates don’t line up. Jobs reports are generally lagging economic indicators but this report, Harvey said, seemed to show an inflection point in the recession nearly in real-time – not impossible but fairly unusual and very surprising. The recovery shown by the May report is closer to what Harvey would have expected to see in reports from June or July. Instead it seems, the economy skipped over intermediate steps of a continued worsening to the modest start of a rebound and into a “V-shaped” recovery of Houston’s labor economy. Job loss aligns with educational attainment Harvey explored the populations of those filing for unemployment claims along educational attainment lines and how it changed over time and the data makes a case for obtaining post-secondary education. Just more than half of the claims filed by the middle of June were made by workers with a high school diploma or equivalent degree while nearly another 20 percent were made by workers with some college but no post-secondary degree. By mid-June, workers with less education than high school made up 15 percent of claimants. Workers with an associate degree had filed only 11 percent of claims while those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up an even smaller percent. Harvey showed how those breakdowns had changed since early March, noting general trends that the proportions of claimants with some college, an associate degree or an associate degree decreased over time while the proportion of claimants with a high school diploma or less generally increased over time. Harvey noted that lower wage earners who found themselves unemployed were more likely to file for unemployment benefits than their high wage-earning counterparts, which could bias the data to some degree. In addition, the data imply that individuals with more education were being reabsorbed back into the job market more readily than those with less education or simply fewer individuals with postsecondary were being laid-off after the initial shock to job market in late-March. “More education correlates with lower chance being unemployed,” he said citing this Bureau of Labor Statistics graphic showing the inverse relationship historically. Upskilling (still) key for workforce recovery Harvey and Beard discussed the growing need for a workforce with keen digital skills, an already growing need accelerated by business responses to the pandemic. Some businesses ceased dine-in services but initiated curb-side pickup and online ordering while others moved employees to remote work settings. Lower-wage jobs were less likely to be those that could be done remotely, he said. Service sector jobs from the lower end to the higher end like car or home sales could be particularly affected by rapidly increasing digital disruption resulting in workers relying more on the use of digital platforms and tools and on having skills like analytical reasoning. As he did in April, Harvey pointed to upskilling now – particularly around digital tools and platforms – as a way for unemployed individuals to prepare for reentering the workforce or as workers increasingly shift to conducting work remotely, which he believes will continue until the pandemic is abated. “It is going to be more imperative to have digital skills than ever before partially because they can be done remotely,” he said. “If people have the time and opportunity to do it […] try to acquire some more online training, pick up some sort of additional skills or exposure to something, anything that would at least allow you to be able to impress them the job, or at least discuss something with employer that would send the signal that you're still engaged,” he said. “The bottom line is that we're all going to have to move forward. The economy is going to have to keep going on some level, people are going to have to continue working,” he said. “It's just a question of what that looks like and how we manage that with the potential for sub-optimal levels for economic activity for the foreseeable future.” The UpSkill Works Forum Series presents interviews with business and community leaders, policy makers, and leading thinkers on the key workforce issues our region confronts. View recordings of the complete series on YouTube. Related Reading: COVID-19 Shocks Labor Economy and Drives Unprecedented Job Loss—the Case for Upskilling and Reskilling  The Gulf Coast Labor Market Is Making a Turn After Record-Breaking, ‘Astonishing’ Unemployment 
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Charting a Path Forward Amid Uncertainty: The Pandemic’s Impact on Houston’s Workforce

When UpSkill Houston’s executive committee met in early April, the initiative’s partners and stakeholders were addressing the immediate impacts of the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order and the Greater Houston region was in the early days of oil market chaos. During its June meeting, UpSkill Houston’s executive committee focused on Houston’s rebound, reviewing employment and labor market data for the Houston region and wider economic trends and implications of the pandemic on “good jobs” in the region.  In April, the executive committee focused on key immediate opportunities to support workforce and unemployment, and how different organizations were managing through crisis, such as adapting/pausing CTE programs, ensuring ongoing business operations and supporting employment. There was broad recognition at the time of the societal impact COVID-19 would have on Houston, and the essential needs required by those facing unemployment. Over the last two months, organizations have stabilized and shifted toward a ‘new normal.’  Today, UpSkill Houston’s partners and leadership are taking a longer and more informed view of the potential impacts on the Houston economy as a result of the pandemic, oil market crisis, and challenges of institutional racism. These factors only make UpSkill Houston’s role in strengthening the pipeline of skilled workers even more important. Our work has been grounded in the core values of equity, dignity of work, skills-based advancement, and opportunity for all.  UpSkill Houston’s Vision 2025 focuses on advancing Houstonians along the “Attract-Train-Place” continuum.  This strategy builds on a strong foundation for effectively convening employers to provide overall leadership and requires a deepening of engagement with partners and orchestration for direct impact by documenting and scaling best practices, incorporating data and analytics into decision-making, and driving collective action across the partner base. In light of the pandemic and to support the economic rebound, this work will need to be more agile and bold – particularly in highlighting and building capabilities around the highest-priority jobs and skills.   A recent UpSkill Works Forum with Parker Harvey, principal economist for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, provided the most up-to-date employment and labor market information. Harvey shared that there are indications that the regional economy has begun a slow thawing. He shared information about what sectors are experiencing job gains and those that are experiencing job losses. He also reported on regional unemployment data and unemployment insurance claims. Consistent with the executive committee’s review of the April employment data, there is limited information and data to suggest specific actions or responses.  During the June meeting, UpSkill Houston partners reviewed the unemployment impacts for individuals based on educational attainment. Parker Harvey shared similar data in the recent Forum. The slide below highlights the that individuals with a high school diploma/GED represent the largest group filing for unemployment insurance and that individuals with lower educational attainment are disproportionately impacted relative to individuals with higher levels of education. The executive committee was also concerned about unequal impact on populations in the region, notably that unemployment rates are higher in less affluent counties and cities, and Black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately affected.       Click to expand In late April, UpSkill Houston released its Middle Skills Matter to Greater Houston report providing updated labor market data and projections between 2019 and 2024 and evidenced the importance of and size of the region’s middle-skill workforce. It also highlighted 47 middle-skill occupations in the region that should be considered “good jobs” because they’re in high demand, projected to need a high volume of workers, and pay livable wages that exceed the overall regional median wage of $39,832. During the meeting, the executive committee examined these occupations in light of likely trends of COVID-19 impact on the regional economy. Currently, UpSkill Houston expects that about 80 percent of these occupations should remain a priority post-COVID, including industrial machinery mechanics, sales representatives, and welders. As the figure below highlights, the dark and light green blocks are occupations that are not likely to have significant impact by COVID in the short term and are expected to have medium to high projected opening as the Houston economy recovers. In contrast, the blocks in light and dark red are at risk and may have projected openings that are lower as the economy recovers. Click to expand The executive committee discussed how the crisis has exacerbated existing skills mismatches. While some new job roles have grown out of the pandemic, like contact tracer, the crisis appears to be restricting available job opportunities and impacting training and skills development for unemployed individuals.  The crisis reinforces the vision set by UpSkill Houston. There is a dire need to build skills in growing, living wage jobs, away from declining sectors and industries. Building existing collaborations and initiating new partnerships amongst various public and private stakeholder groups is critical to ensure investments and initiatives drive the necessary impact in an inclusive manner. Related Reading: •    Report: Middle Skills Matter to Greater Houston
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The Gulf Coast Labor Market Is Making a Turn After Record-Breaking, ‘Astonishing’ Unemployment

Key indicators are showing a change in Houston’s labor market, according to a regional labor economist. Job postings are starting to increase in some industries while the number of weekly unemployment insurance claims are decreasing, leading Parker Harvey, principal economist for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, to believe that the region has “probably, tentatively, turned the corner in a very, very modest way.” Harvey has seen job postings pick up in the areas of leisure/hospitality, which includes bars, restaurants, hotels and retail; construction; transportation; warehousing and logistics. “You’re finally starting to see increased posting of job ads compared to a few weeks earlier, which makes sense given the phased reopening of businesses since early May,” he said. Weekly unemployment insurance claims in the 13-county Gulf Coast region have decreased 60% from April, when they apexed at 76,999 claims.  Near the end of May, they had declined to about 30,202 claims – still about eight times the 4,868 claims filed in the beginning of March, before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted business closures – but showing movement in the right direction, Harvey said. Click to expand Harvey shared the data and his analysis during a meeting of the UpSkill Houston initiative’s June executive committee.  This “slow thawing” in the region comes after several weeks of rising – in some cases record-breaking, atypical and even “astonishing” – unemployment rates across the region. Regional unemployment jumped by about 8.5 percentage points between March to April, making it the largest one-month increase on record – a jump he called “astonishing.” This follows a 1.7 percentage point increase between February and March – the second largest one-month increase on record. February 2020: 138,000 unemployed individuals (3.9%) March 2020: 195,000 unemployed individuals (5.6%) April 2020: 495,000 unemployed individuals (14.1%)  Click to expand A year ago, the region saw its lowest unemployment rate, of just 3.3% in April 2019. In April 2020, of the 13 counties in the Gulf Coast region 11 counties exceeded their all-time high unemployment rates. The highest unemployment rates were seen in the eastern half of the region, namely in Galveston, Liberty and Chambers counties. Galveston County showed an unemployment rate of 15.6%. Liberty County showed an unemployment rate of 15.3%. Chambers County showed an unemployment rate of 15.1%. Galveston County was particularly impacted by the closure of hospitality and tourism-related businesses in mid- to late-March. Its unemployment rate increased by nearly 10 percentage points between March and April – the largest increase of any county in the region. Galveston County currently leads the region in unemployment rates for only the second time in the last 30 years. Meanwhile, Harris County’s unemployment rate of 14.4% was just higher than the regional average of 14.1%. Click to expand Every one of the region’s 17 cities for which data are available saw record-breaking all-time high unemployment rates, with each posting double-digit rates.  Nearly one out of every four working-age adults in Baytown were unemployed in April, according to Harvey, and its unemployment rate – at 23.4% - was the highest in the region. “Baytown traditionally has had the highest unemployment rate of our region over the last 30 years or so but one-in-four [working-age adults unemployed] is still a pretty extreme number,” he said. Harvey said data that he had seen, including unemployment insurance claims data, ties Baytown’s employment rate – along with Texas City’s 19.0% unemployment rate and Pasadena’s 16.7% unemployment rate – to construction-related, petrochemical-related and port-related losses.  “Those cities have traditionally had higher unemployment rates in our on average over the last 30 years,” he said. “The fact that it is ‘Ground Zero’ for our petrochemical industry is concerning but it tends to be the jobs that are always in flux around the plants.”   (Texas City ranks third on the unemployment list and Pasadena fourth. Alvin rounds out the top five with an unemployment rate of 15.5%.) Click to expand   Related reading: COVID-19 Shocks Labor Economy and Drives Unprecedented Job Loss—the Case for Upskilling and Reskilling  
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