Texas’ economy is still the envy of the nation.
The state has added 310,000 jobs across its 11 major industries in the last year. Monthly job growth has remained positive for more than three years. Our unemployment rate is well below the national average and continues to fall.
Economic indicators point to continued growth in Texas as new companies form and businesses expand or relocate here.
But we can’t just be the envy of the nation. We’re competing not just with other states, but with countries like China and Germany. And while factors like tax policy and infrastructure will play important roles in our economic growth, a skilled, educated workforce will be Texas’ greatest asset as we compete in a global economy. To keep our businesses competitive, we must identify and implement innovative education and workforce development opportunities.
Texas employers are already increasingly requiring employees to possess advanced math and critical thinking skills and technical capabilities. We consistently hear from employers about their need for workers with some form of education or skills training beyond a high school diploma.
Given the changing workforce needs and economic demands here at home and around the world, it’s our responsibility to work collaboratively to create more accessible and affordable education and training opportunities for all Texans. That’s why we must provide every high school student with a strong academic foundation to support a lifetime of learning while offering them opportunities to explore college and gain marketable career skills.
The Texas Legislature last year passed House Bill 5, which gave local communities more control in setting high school graduation requirements and expectations. With more control comes more responsibility to ensure that young people leave high school with a diploma that has prepared them for the modern workforce or for additional education and training.
We recently started traveling around Texas to meet with local employers and education leaders to strengthen partnerships, identify alternate pathways for students to gain marketable job skills, and encourage local innovation that will help meet current and future educational and workforce demands. Our message and purpose is clear: For Texas to compete, public and higher education must work more closely with business and industry to strengthen the education-to-workforce pipeline.
The good news is that local leaders have accepted the challenge. We’re encouraged by many initiatives already in place throughout the state that represent the kind of local and regional collaboration that is essential. But the state must also do its part to support and nurture these efforts. That’s why, in an unprecedented partnership between our three agencies, we each earlier this year committed $1 million in seed money toward creating a series of career and technical education early-college high schools around the state.
The initiative is designed to give high school students a head start on getting a high-skill, high-demand job by allowing them to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential in a career and technology field. Earning college credit while in high school will help students save money and offer them early exposure to the type of environment they’ll encounter either in the postsecondary classroom or in the workplace.
Under the initiative, school districts and higher education institutions will jointly develop these programs in close coordination with workforce boards to ensure a high degree of alignment with existing and future jobs. Interest in this effort has been robust, and we anticipate announcing grants by early summer. Our hope is that these pilot programs provide a roadmap for other innovative partnerships.
The Texas economic boom did not happen by accident — and it will not be sustained by chance. That’s why we’re encouraging leaders around the state to increase local academic standards, expand and encourage education and training beyond high school, raise student expectations and, most importantly, foster a culture of collaboration and innovation among school districts, higher education institutions and employers.
As public education, higher education and workforce development leaders in every part of our state continue to do their part, we remain committed to doing ours.