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May 2008


Your Economic Future
is Now

Why have an issue of Fiscal Notes dedicated mostly to children’s issues? That’s easy. Today’s kids will have an enormous effect on tomorrow’s economy.

In 2006, an estimated 6.5 million Texans under the age of 18 lived in the state. These children will quickly grow to become tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers and caregivers.

Texas children will have big roles to fill. For example, the state is working to increase the number of students completing allied health and nursing degrees to 20,300 by 2010 and to 26,100 by 2015. About 17,000 currently earn such degrees annually.

More than 200,000 students are expected to earn bachelor’s and associate’s degrees and certificates in 2015. Today that number stands at about 150,000.

Our story on obesity, including childhood obesity, addresses what is being done about this significant problem in today’s Texas.

Speaking of impact, the education our children receive today will determine their success in tomorrow’s demanding occupations. This issue discusses that subject and even presents a smart plan to pay for college.

For more information and resources on Texas children, visit, the Comptroller’s one-stop portal to economic resources.

In Demand

Students get specialized work force training for the jobs ahead.

By Clint Shields

In Texas, tomorrow’s work force will need specialized training and certifications in several fields. To meet employer demands, many Texas high school students are working in career and technology academies to earn professional certifications or even college credit before their graduation.

“When we look at high-demand occupations, no longer is it sufficient to have a strong back and a good heart to earn a good wage,” says Diane Rath, former chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. “Today’s employers require specific skills.”

About 60 percent of jobs in fields such as welding, manufacturing and automotive and aircraft repair require one to two years of post-secondary training, Rath says, adding that technology has changed the workplace.

“I think there’s a lack of understanding in how technical those jobs are,” she says. “You need specialized training, especially in computers, to make repairs on modern automobiles. Manufacturing plants in Texas today are very automated with robotics and computerization. And those jobs are available in towns of all sizes around the state.”

Manufacturing jobs earn workers with a high school education and some post-secondary training about $47,000 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Welding, a crucially understaffed occupation, can earn skilled workers more than $30,000 annually.

“In West Texas, there’s tremendous demand for welders in the oil fields,” Rath says. “In Southeast Texas, there’s a $15 billion capital investment occurring, mostly by oil refineries, and they estimate they’re going to need 13,000-15,000 skilled workers, many in construction and many in oil, with very high wages and great benefits packages.”

“When we look at high-demand occupations, no longer is it sufficient to have a strong back and a good heart to earn a good wage. Today’s employers require specific skills.” – Diane Rath, formerly of the Texas Workforce Commission

Information technology certifications, medical equipment repair and diesel engine mechanics are also on the list of what Rath calls well-paying, in-demand jobs. And from El Paso to the Valley, employers and colleges are beginning to team up with schools.

“We’re seeing employers being more involved with schools, and their collaborations have resulted in training, internships and educational funding,” Rath says.

Tax incentives are fading in their importance to a moving or expanding employer, being replaced by the availability of a work force. Rath says Texas is well stocked.

“Texas has the critical natural resource, and that’s people,” she says. “Our challenge as a state is making sure those workers have the skills that employers will need in the long term.”

Strength in San Antonio

San Antonio-area high school students are working to meet that challenge at the Alamo Academies. The academy started its aerospace program in 2001, then added programs in information technology and security (ITSA) in 2002 and manufacturing technology in 2004. The coursework prepares high school students for more than just job skills.

“The need for entry-level skilled workers with the willingness to learn and the capability to work as a team with discipline is huge in our nation right now,” says Gene Bowman, the academy’s director. “Learning is a lifetime event. You never stop learning.”

A collaboration among the Alamo Community College District, civic leaders, local school districts and local aerospace, information technology and manufacturing companies, the academy graduated its first students in 2002. More than 360 students have completed their course work at one of the three campuses. A fourth academy opened last year in the nearby New Braunfels/Seguin area. The academy will expand to five campuses in 2008 with the addition of a new ITSA program at the New Braunfels site.

Eligible students come from all of the independent school districts in San Antonio, area private schools and home school programs. The school districts provide transportation to and from a student’s home campus.

Summer Payoff

The Alamo Academies and several San Antonio-area industry partners offer eight-week, 40-hour-per-week paid internships to academy students. Students can earn more than $2,500 for the summer, and sponsoring companies have hired several students following graduation.

Partnering companies include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Rackspace and Texas Composites.

Once on campus, whether the coursework is aerospace, manufacturing or IT, it’s applying what they are learning that makes the difference, Bowman says.

The hands-on approach is one of the highlights for Eric De La Rosa, a senior interested in manufacturing, robotics and welding in the Manufacturing Technology Academy.

“All aspects of the program, class work and shop time are exciting and informative,” says De La Rosa. “What interests me is that most of the tasks that we perform are hands-on. There’s a bit of book work, but that’s for your safety and knowledge in the shop.”

“The need for entry-level skilled workers with the willingness to learn and the capability to work as a team with discipline is huge in our nation right now.” – Gene Bowman, Alamo Academies

The majority of academy graduates continue their higher education through either two- or four-year programs. Many continue to work and go to college at the same time with the employer paying for their college courses, what Bowman calls a win-win situation for academy graduates and industry partners.

More than 98 percent of academy graduates have gone on to continue higher education, work in aerospace, IT or manufacturing industries or to join the military. For those who join the work force, an average starting salary and benefits package of $27,730 – better than $10 an hour – awaits.

Academy graduates take with them not only their job skills but also an understanding of commitment, teamwork and dedication.

De La Rosa expects his experience to give him a head start on the employment trail.

“I will take with me the basic understanding of the importance of one’s profession and the dedication and time it takes to complete a task successfully,” he says. FN

Job Expansion

Texas’ total employment is projected to grow by 20 percent by 2014.

IndustryProjected Increase
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing20%
Automotive repair and maintenance17%
Oil and gas extraction15%
Machinery manufacturing14%
Steel product manufacturing14%
Plastics product manufacturing10%

Source: Texas Workforce Commission.

Building on Success

School’s end in 2008 will close the second year for Denton’s Sarah and Troy Lagrone Advanced Technology Complex (ATC). The ATC, featured in the December 2006 issue of Fiscal Notes, will soon expand its class offerings.

“We jumped from about 1,200 students the first year to about 1,400 in the second,” says Marty Thompson, the ATC’s director.

The ATC offers specialized coursework in engineering and aerospace, among others. In 2009, it will add pre-veterinary and pre-law internships to the course list along with preparatory L.V.N. and computer technology coursework.

And they are starting early in Denton, reaching out to middle school students and encouraging them to think about the future.

“You have to motivate them early, when they’re entering middle school,” says Thompson. “We’re trying to teach them that if you’re going to be successful in high school or college, you have to plan. You have to know what the high-demand occupations are looking for.”

The ATC opened its doors to middle-school students in summer 2007 for a week-long camp. Round two is slated for summer 2008.

About 45 percent of ATC students are at-risk students from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes. Giving them chances to help themselves is what it’s about, Thompson says.

“We try to reach that kid and that family and show them ways to double or even triple their income through education or professional certifications,” she says. “If we can do that, the chances are greater they’ll take that next step and go to college.”

The Texas Education Agency provides information on career and technology education programs at

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