Op-Ed:  Education & Workforce Development Vital to Texas Economy, By State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa  

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Texas Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
Texas Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

Texas Border Business

The future of our state depends on a healthy, educated, and prepared workforce to meet evolving market demands. We must continue to invest in programs that meet current workforce needs but also help identify, develop, and train workers for the economy of the future. In working with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), I am pleased with the significant improvements and investments we have made in my district towards this goal. However, our work is not complete.

For many years, I have championed legislation and supported funding for initiatives such as the creation of the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Program administered by the TWC. JET provides funding to school districts and to community and technical colleges for the development of career and technical education programs. Since 2016, more than $2.2 million of JET Funds have been awarded to institutions in my Senate District (SD) 20, including $338,000 to Alice ISD, $554,000 to Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, and $264,000 to Del Mar College.

I have also advocated for grants from the Skills Development Fund. This job-training program provides local, customized training opportunities for Texas businesses and workers to increase workforce skill levels and wages. Over the past three years, more than $15.6 million has been awarded to entities in SD 20 such as $8 million to Del Mar College, $6.6 million to South Texas College, and almost $1 million to school districts.

In total, I am pleased to report that the TWC has invested more than half a billion dollars in grants for SD 20 since September 2014, providing the training and skills necessary for the unemployed or underemployed to better support their families.

Despite the financial support from the TWC, and the significant progress we have made in higher education and skilled employment opportunities through the passage of House Bill 5 and the 60X30 Strategic Plan for higher education, the demand for skilled trade workers is still unmet. If we don’t take action soon, our supply of skilled workers will fall further behind the demand as our baby boomers retire and the Texas economy expands.

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Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez has repeatedly told me that employers have difficulty finding workers, especially younger workers, to fill skilled trade or middle skills jobs. Meanwhile, young job seekers complain about the high cost of college tuition and lack of good-paying jobs. Integrating Education and the Workforce for a Bright Texas Future, a tri-agency report by the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, identified the same disconnect.

To address this problem, the report recommended that the state focus on providing thorough education and career guidance in our schools. While we are doing some of this with programs such as JET and the Skills Development Fund, more needs to be done to increase and enhance counseling and mentoring for all students.

With this in mind, I authored Senate Bill (SB) 154 last session. This bill would have created the Career and Technical Education Workforce Specialist Initiative, a pilot program administered by the TWC that would call for local Workforce Boards to partner with corresponding Educational Service Centers to co-locate Workforce Development Specialists at area high schools. These workforce specialists would be able to conduct interviews to assess area workforce needs, disseminate information to students, facilitate access to employment programs, and provide employment counseling services.

Having specialists with workforce knowledge and connections to employers in our high schools will benefit students who need or want additional information and guidance regarding apprenticeships, trade schools, community colleges, or on the job training programs. This initiative would build on our prior efforts to ensure that Texas has the well-educated and well-trained workforce it needs to stay competitive and continue growing our economy. That’s why we will keep fighting next session for legislation and funding that provides education and career guidance to our students, the state’s future workforce.

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa represents Texas State Senate District 20, which extends from Hidalgo County to Nueces County.