Help wanted: Responding to calls for a skilled workforce

This is a preview of our Texas 2036 newsletter on bills that are positioning 2023 as the “Workforce Session.” To receive this weekly highlight of our work, sign up here.

Nearly 15 million hardworking Texans head into work each day. This is the highest number of employed people in our state’s history. It’s a testament to the strength and resilience of our people and economy.

However, while our workforce reaches new heights, employers are still seeking more skilled workers. The 88th Legislature is answering this call, positioning 2023 as the “Workforce Session,” with a series of bipartisan bills that will further shape Texas into a business-friendly state where job seekers can find ample opportunities.

Here are four bills that would allow more Texans to attain the critical skills to meet the evolving needs of employers and earn themselves self-sustaining wages.

1. Community colleges 🧑‍🏫

Money talks: Investing in the state’s community college finance system’s workforce outcomes would ensure more Texans have valuable skills throughout their career.

  • House Bill 8 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, would bring millions in additional funding to Texas’ 50 public community college districts.

By the numbers:

  • The state’s community colleges deliver open enrollment education and workforce training to a yearly average of about 700,000 students.
  • By 2036, 70% of Texas jobs will require education or training after high school, yet fewer than 30% of Texans earn a postsecondary credential within six years of graduating from high school.
  • Texas ranks second-to-last among peer states in terms of postsecondary credential attainment—degrees, workforce-aligned certifications, licenses, badges, apprenticeships—for adults ages 25–64.

Dive deeper: The bill would transform the system by infusing $650 million into Texas community colleges for the 2024-2025 biennium primarily based on improvements in student outcomes and better alignment of college programs with state and regional workforce needs.

  • It would also enact recommendations from the Texas Commission on Community College Finance.

👉 Did you know? Almost 95,000 more Texas women earned college degrees or certificates than men. Learn more at Texas 2036’s new“Understanding Texas Women” dashboard.

2. Workforce programs 📐

Data matters: Updating Texas’ Workforce Development Evaluation System would optimize taxpayer-funded workforce training programs across the state to ensure that participants successfully obtain jobs with better wages.

  • HB 1703 by Rep. Claudia Ordaz, D-El Paso, seeks to improve this system through better data collection and analysis.

Investing in jobs: Texas invests over $110 billion annually in taxpayer-funded education-to-workforce systems, which offer Texans the opportunity to learn, upskill and reskill for jobs, a critical component of our economy.

  • These opportunities include workforce development programs, run by the Texas Workforce Commission and the state’s 28 local workforce boards.

Room for improvement: While Texas may be experiencing record workforce numbers, the state’s unemployment rate is hovering at 4%.

  • Reports indicate employers across the state are struggling to fill open positions.

On top of that: The current data shows that there have been instances when specific Texas workforce programs led to worse employment and wage outcomes for Texans after exiting the program.

👉 Did you know? The median Texas women’s annual income is $45,600.

3. Apprenticeships 🧑‍🏭

Learning opportunities: This legislation would require a new annual legislative report with the goal of expanding the availability of apprenticeship programs in emerging and high-demand Texas industries across the state.

  • HB 4451 by Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-Euless, would bring more apprenticeship programs to Texans.

Why it matters: Apprenticeships offer students a model of learning that incorporates workplace experience and skills-intensive instruction.

  • Texas is second-to-last among its peer states in the number of active apprentices as a percentage of the total state labor force, with Washington and California surpassing Texas by a three-to-one ratio, according to data from the Department of Labor.

Changes ahead: This annual report would include the total of active Texas apprenticeship programs and apprentices categorized by industry, as well as demand for apprenticeable occupations for each Texas industry.

  • Together, these data points will allow the state’s policymakers to assess which of its industries with the highest growth and demand can benefit from greater availability of apprenticeship programs.

👉 Did you know? Seven out of 10 Texas mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce today.

4. Virtual learning 💻

Access to education: To help create opportunities for enrollment in advanced coursework and leverage flexible scheduling for work-based learning and internships, Senate Bill 1861 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, would allow more Texas students access to virtual learning.

  •  HB 3141 by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, is its companion legislation.

Across the state: Thousands of Texas students have little or no access to advanced courses in middle school and high school, especially in rural communities.

  • Drawing on Texas Education Agency data, our Advanced Coursetaking Dashboard shows disparities in advanced course offerings, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate for 11th and 12th graders and Algebra I for 7th and 8th graders, across school districts.

Catalyst for change:Virtual learning holds promise as a way to provide access to advanced coursework where those offerings are historically limited and play a major role in helping drive the completion of postsecondary credentials, in particular, workforce credentials.

  • Innovative solutions to close access gaps, such as high-quality online programs, can help expand access for rural students around the state.

👉 Want to learn more about issues impacting Texas women? Check out our new dashboard highlighting their life stage experiences:

A look back: The workforce session in the making 🛠

In November 2021, we wrote about how policymakers, employers and stakeholders were banking on 2023 becoming the Workforce Session. In fact, our money was on building on the opportunities that defined the economic growth of recent decades known as the “Texas Miracle.” We doubled down on our support of community colleges’ role in workforce development, for example.

With the Texas Legislature working hard to help all Texans earn a living, raise a family and leave an even stronger state to their children, here’s a quick look at the path Texas 2036 took to support much of this legislation.

January 2022: A new state higher education strategic plan, Building A Talent Strong Texas, was approved with goals focused on credentials of value. The Tri-Agency—Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Education Agency, Texas Workforce Commission—also developed comprehensive state workforce goals.

April 2022: The Tri-Agencies developed coordinated interagency strategies to achieve the state workforce goals.

August 2022: All state agencies were required to align their workforce budget requests with state workforce strategies for FY 24-25.

November/December 2022: The Texas Commission on Community College Finance and the Texas Commission on Virtual Education released their recommendations and final reports, solidifying the best actions to take in January.

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