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March 5, 2009 – Gulf Coast

A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work

By Susan Combs
Texas Comptroller

Last year, refinery and plant expansions added about 5,000 new jobs in Houston’s energy sector. Those job gains could have potentially been higher if the area’s available work force had possessed in-demand skills such as welding and process control.

The work force skills the region needed do not require a four-year degree, but do require technical training beyond high school. According to Carol Wilson, senior human resources director at Centerpoint Energy, the problem is not isolated.

“It’s getting tougher to find people for technical skills-related positions,” Wilson said. “The demand is greater than the supply of the people who possess these skills.”

Our state as a whole stands to reap significant economic rewards if we shift some of our education policies from the traditional emphasis on four-year colleges and direct more attention, money and research toward work force training opportunities offered by community and technical colleges.

Community and technical college graduates add fuel to Texas’ economic engine and provide skills that keep our cities moving, building and thriving. In 2007, more than 80 percent of all Texas jobs did not require a bachelor’s degree. Neither did nearly 44 percent of the jobs paying wages above the state average. The U.S. Department of Education estimates about 80 percent of the fastest growing occupations in the near future will require some postsecondary training, but not a bachelor’s degree.

Monte King, of the Workforce Development office at Shell Oil Company, recognizes the benefits of developing a labor supply that is trained and ready for tomorrow’s in-demand jobs.

“If Texas is known to have work force talent, more companies will locate and expand in the state,” King said.

In my office’s recent Texas Works report, we detail strategies for developing our work force in ways that dovetail with future labor needs. One way to do that is to ensure high school students have multiple pathways to graduation by allowing greater flexibility in Texas graduation requirements and grade point average calculation standards, which can otherwise prevent or discourage high school students from enrolling in career and technology courses.

In addition to policy changes, we need to strengthen Texas’ work force. Establishing a $25 million fund to support community and technical colleges offering career-technical education will be invaluable to schools facing startup costs associated with purchasing equipment and outfitting state-of-the-art training facilities.

Without an adequate supply of skilled workers, Texas’ ability to attract and retain new businesses will suffer. We also jeopardize the future financial well being of many young Texans by focusing on only one “ideal” route beyond high school. By bolstering our state’s sometimes overlooked educational assets, Texas can stand ready to greet future work force developments not as challenges, but as opportunities.


Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently released Texas Works , an in-depth study of the emerging gap between the demand for skilled workers and the state’s ability to supply them. The report is available online at www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/workforce/.

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