Pandemic-related layoffs and closures left many people across the country in need of a new opportunity. The scenario was no different in Texas. At the start of the pandemic, Texas’ unemployment rate rose to 12.8%. By February 2021, the seasonally adjusted Texas unemployment rate had dropped down to 6.9%, compared to 6.8% in January 2020.
Rebounds like this don’t happen by chance. The state took immediate action working with employers, higher education and Texans to head off the worst of the effects. One of the Texas Workforce Commission’s primary concerns was keeping the state’s talent pipeline primed for the future by helping students stay on track.
In July 2020, the state announced a $175 million combined investment to post-secondary students and institutions to support higher education, including $93 million to help students continue or restart their progress toward earning a post-secondary credential or degree. Funding comes from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Trump.
“One of the best ways to accelerate our economic recovery is to make strategic investments in our future workforce,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “These federal funds will provide targeted assistance to keep students enrolled or help them re-enroll in higher education so they can pursue new professional and economic opportunities for themselves and their families. By investing in our students and institutions, we will make our workforce and our economy even stronger.”
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) awarded two rounds of the Texas Reskilling Support Fund Grant Program. In March 2021, through a competitive process, 25 applicants representing 31 institutions and serving 6,100 students were selected for the awards. In December 2020, $18.1 million was awarded to 40 applicants representing 49 institutions and serving nearly 12,000 students.
“Texas has tens of thousands of good jobs that are being created across the state, and at the same time we have many displaced workers who are still unemployed. It’s important to help Texans reskill and upskill so they can get back on their feet, get back into the economy, and drive the state’s economic recovery,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller. “Thanks to the strong support of Governor Abbott and our Texas legislative leadership, the strategic investment to date of more than $27.4 million enables our Texas institutions to expand access to programs that equip students to enter the workforce with the credentials and education tomorrow’s economy will demand.”
Statewide Workforce Strategy Aims to Hire
In October 2020, Texas launched a new statewide workforce initiative, Aim Hire Texas (AHT), to help close the gaps between employers and Texans seeking good, high-paying jobs.
The effort is a collaboration between Texas 2036 — a data-driven nonprofit working to ensure that Texas remains the best place to live and work through its bicentennial and beyond — and the Commit Partnership, which will co-chair the effort and help facilitate policy advocacy and the implementation of effective education and workforce data-driven practices. They are joined by a diverse group of founding partners including the Dallas Regional Chamber, Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Association of Community Colleges, Texas Rural Funders and United Ways of Texas.
AHT will create a statewide hub of private data and analysis, leveraging Texas 2036’s existing resources and analytics to maintain a near-real-time analysis of the state’s workforce. It also will work with public- and private-sector officials to share and promote emerging and proven strategies for workforce development, serving as a clearinghouse for information, policy ideas and leadership.