It’s no secret that Texas leads the nation in the creation of good jobs. However, many of the state’s employers say they cannot find workers with the skills they need. This skills gap points to the need for Texas to expand and diversify its educational and training pathways, according to a report released in July by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.
The report, titled “Workforce — Capitalizing on Our Human Assets,” says that the state’s under-18 population grew by more than 979,000 between 2000 and 2010, or 6.5 times faster than the U.S. average. With these promising numbers, Texas should have a strong workforce if young workers receive proper training and education.
“To close the skills gap, we must ensure our young people can acquire the tools sought by Texas employers and assist them in refining and upgrading those skill sets throughout their careers,” Combs said.
Among five recommendations to help the Texas workforce continue to enjoy prosperity, the Comptroller’s office suggests that Texas needs to do a better job of broadcasting the positive outcomes of career and technical education (CTE).
According to the Association of Career & Technical Education, CTE programs prepare students for a range of high-wage and high-demand careers, as well as further educational opportunities. Offered by high schools, community colleges, and technical schools, CTE programs equip students with employability skills and job-specific technical skills as well as core academic skills. Career options are grouped into 16 Career Clusters® based on common skill sets needed for those careers that fall within each cluster, and each cluster includes numerous pathways students can pursue.
New legislation also makes it easier for high school students to pursue CTE training. The Foundation High School Program, established by House Bill 5 and implemented at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, is a more flexible graduation program that allows students to pursue their interests by focusing on a related series of courses.
“In the past, CTE courses were considered electives in the public schools, but now these courses can be a part of a student’s graduation plan,” explained Annette Gregory, executive director of career and technical education at Austin ISD. “Under the new graduation program, students have more opportunities, but they need a plan; and they need to do some investigative work using tools like TEXASgenuine before they decide which path to take.”
TEXASgenuine.org is a free resource that high school counselors and college advisors are using to showcase the value of career and technical education and to help students explore career options. The website makes it easy for students to find information about potential careers, plus related education and training offered at public community and technical colleges throughout the state.
The website’s “Find Your Future” career assessment takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Based on their responses, students can have their top three Career Clusters® of interest emailed to them. They can then use the website to explore potential careers that fall within each of those categories, along with salary information – an important factor that many students consider when planning for the future. In the past month, over 500 high school students from all corners of the state have completed the “Find Your Future” assessment, and project leaders are partnering with the Texas Education Agency to make the free resource available to all school districts.
Leaders of Texas’ community and technical colleges are pleased to see statewide collaborations such as TEXASgenuine aimed at helping Texans recognize the benefits of career and technical education.
“Not too many years ago, teachers and counselors told their students that college wasn’t meant for everyone. Today, everyone needs some college,” explains Dr. Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District.
May adds, “Students who graduate from a community college have earned a credential that can help them enter the workforce immediately with the skills they need for a good job, or they can transfer to a university to continue their education. Either way, they are earning a credential – either an associate degree or a certificate – that helps them build a career. We also know that people who already have earned a bachelor’s degree are returning to community colleges for certificates that will enhance their skills and also will advance their careers and earning potential.”
A 2014-15 Perkins State Leadership grant has been awarded to Victoria College by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to sustain the statewide TEXASgenuine initiative in collaboration with the Texas Association of Community College Marketers, the THECB, the Texas Education Agency, and the 50+ public community and technical colleges in Texas.
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The Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM) is a statewide consortium of marketing and public relations professionals for public community and technical colleges in Texas. The organization serves as a clearinghouse for information, promotes public community and technical colleges in Texas, and serves in an advisory capacity to other statewide organizations.
Funding for the TEXASgenuine project was provided through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with Discretionary Leadership funds received from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006.