Job training’s impact on local economic development was the topic of a June 15 Community Conversation held at Lena Pope and sponsored by United Way and its event partners JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, North Central Texas Council of Governments and Tarrant County College.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley moderated a panel consisting of Mike Eastland, Executive Director, North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG); Dr. Eugene Giovannini, Chancellor, Tarrant County College (TCC); Judy McDonald, Executive Director, Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County; and Marty Wieder, Director of Economic Development, City of Grand Prairie.
Judge Whitley opened the program by noting that this is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. “We have so many things that are attractive in this area,” he said, including the climate, a central location between east and west coasts, DFW International Airport, the lack of a state income tax, and other incentives for incoming employers who bring living wage jobs with benefits. But, he added, employers who come to North Texas must be able to find workers here with the skills that they need, and in that respect, the collaborative efforts represented by the panelists “play a larger part in the success of this area than any incentive.”
“Businesses are looking to maximize their operations and their profits,” said Grand Prairie Economic Development Director Marty Wieder. “Economic developers are looking to maximize their communities.”
Dr. Giovannini of TCC noted that, even with the national unemployment rate at 4.3%, there are 5.5 million jobs going unfilled in the United States because people don’t have the skills needed to fill them. “It’s critical that job training stay abreast of the ever-changing marketplace,” he said.
“Industry and business tell us every day about the shortages. Everybody is in need of more talent,” said Judy McDonald of Workforce Solutions. “We need well laid out career pathways so people will be better candidates for the jobs of the future.
“TCC is very flexible. If there is a need, they will design it as fast as they can,” she said. Dr. Giovannini said TCC first assesses students’ desires and abilities before matching them with career objectives and then establishing an educational path to get there.
Mike Eastland of NCTCOG emphasized the importance of certifications and other types of technical training in the area between the high school diploma and the advanced degree. Marty Wieder said lifelong learning should be encouraged. “Make sure your skills are current,” he said. Mike Eastland said the challenge is how to “help people stay current and incentivize that.”
Judy McDonald noted that investment in transportation, quality child care and other ancillary services are important to enable people to get to work. A related issue, said Mike Eastland, is that people placed in job training programs can receive child care and other assistance, but when that assistance ends, it creates economic strain on workers that makes it more advantageous to “go back on the system then to be gainfully employed.” Judy McDonald said there has been improvement in the area of child care, but with resources remaining limited, extending assistance for some has meant a longer waiting list for others.
In a Q&A session, audience members asked about opportunities for older adults and ex-offenders who need jobs. Judy McDonald said while TCC has some special trainings for older adults, there often are not enough resources to tailor services for specific groups. She noted that there is more opportunity for ex-offenders who want to get a job “than there’s been in a long time.” Employers have “much more appetite” for giving ex-offenders a chance these days because of their need for workers.
Speaking about apprenticeships, Dr. Giovannini said not many apprenticeships are currently recognized in Texas. “We don’t have a defined path as many states do,” he said.
Workforce development is a key component of United Way’s 10-year EARN WELL initiative established to help low-income working families get on the path to financial stability. United Way’s skill-based job training and Talent 4 Tarrant paid IT internships help Tarrant County workers move into high-demand occupations. This addresses employee shortages and provides a stronger workforce in our community. “Increasing earning potential through skills-based job training is also the single most effective way to move and keep a family out of poverty,” adds Sue Matkin, United Way of Tarrant County Community Development Vice President.