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WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
From the Texas – Wide Open for Business, 2015-16 Edition
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A Competitive Edge

Texas sharpens its workforce through public/private partnerships.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
The Domain is a business, retail and residential center in downtown Austin.   
Photo by Heather Overman

by MARY WELCH
W

ith a high school graduation rate above the national average and an unemployment rate below the national average, Texas has a workforce that is not only motivated but possesses a variety of options to ensure that they have the skills and education needed by businesses.

“The Texas workforce is growing and reached over 12.6 million during 2014, and it benefits from a dynamic partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission, community colleges, technical schools and post-secondary institutes that align their efforts with the economic activity in the state,” says Alders Alcantar, chairman and commissioner of the Texas Workforce Commission. “We really focus on the market activity to analyze where our efforts should be with the different industry sectors and post-secondary institutions so that we provide integrated services.”

The Workforce Commission, along with 50 community college districts, 36 public universities (including six state university systems), local government and the private sector work closely to attract businesses and then align the curriculum, training and financial assistance to recruit, train and re-train the workforce.

“We are a right-to-work state and we work hard to develop programs that ensure that businesses have an effective workforce with the skills not only for today but for tomorrow,” says Alcantar.

Training for Trains

The experience of GE Transportation is indicative of how a collective effort can provide an excellent workforce.

In 2011, GE Transportation, which manufactures advanced rail and transportation-related equipment, announced a $235-million expansion in Fort Worth. The company had about 280 available positions — more than 10,000 applied for the jobs. GE partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission to develop a recruitment strategy as well as provide labor market information.

“The selection process was based on principles of carefully selecting candidates that not only have the skills to do the job but can collaborate with others to solve problems and have the willingness to learn and continuously improve,” says Walter Amaya, supply chain executive leader for GE Manufacturing Solutions.

In addition, a partnership was forged with two community colleges to provide the needed technical training. “As part of that effort, they also helped us apply for a skills development grant to cover the cost of training. All new employees receive more than 160 hours of technical training as well as training on teaming effectiveness, business acumen and soft skills,” says Amaya.

This entire collaboration involved two workforce boards, two community colleges — North Central Texas College and Tarrant County College — a third-party consultant, two counties and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the City of Fort Worth. Amaya adds, “Not to mention the community’s willingness to accommodate our presence in the area.” All that effort resulted in a motivated workforce where every person is qualified for two fields, has a solid knowledge of machine shop math and is certified for both forklift and crane operations.

In addition to recruiting and training, companies might be the beneficiary of the state’s Skills Development Fund, which assists businesses by financing the design and implementation of customized job-training projects. Rackspace, a managed cloud provider headquartered in San Antonio, used the TWC Skills Development grants to support the training of incumbent workers. The grants provided materials and software for instructor-led courses facilitated by Rackspace trainers as well as instructors from nearby Alamo Community Colleges.

“We received great support,” says Deborah Carter, senior manager of Rackspace Open Cloud Academy. “We have a college talent pipeline that is getting to where we want it to be. Overall, the workforce is very motivated.”

Austin-based J. Skinner Baking Co., partnered with Paris Junior College to use a $170,115 Skills Development Fund grant to train 107 new and incumbent workers with customized technical and safety training for new production lines. Those trained included general production workers, plant sanitation, groundskeepers and machine operators. Upon completion of the training, trainees will earn an hourly wage of $17.02.

Another beneficiary was Mission Solar Energy, which partnered with Alamo Colleges to custom train 270 new workers for work in cell and module production operations, facilities maintenance and production equipment maintenance.

Alcantar points out that in addition to having a committed workforce, a large number speak Spanish, which is an advantage in many industries.

“We are focused on market-driven solutions. Whatever companies are looking for, we have it in Texas, because at the end of the day we are all committed to understanding what our companies need and are making it happen.”

GE’s Amaya called the recruiting and development of a skilled workforce a daunting task. In order to be successful, the company needed trusted partners to help navigate the process. “We are confident,” he says, “we have built a one-of-a-kind workforce.”


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