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State representative speaks to local educators about workforce needs

by Andrew Bell | October 14, 2022 at 10:00 p.m.
Texas state Rep. Gary VanDeaver speaks to local education and business leaders during a roundtable discussion Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at Texarkana College. VanDeaver spoke on improving the state's workforce in rural communities. (Photo courtesy of TC/Allison Haley)

TEXARKANA, Texas -- State Rep. Gary VanDeaver spoke to local education and business leaders during a roundtable discussion Friday at Texarkana College regarding how to improve the Texas workforce in rural communities.

VanDeaver is a member of the House Appropriations and Public Education committees and an appointee to the Texas Commission on Community College Finance. He outlined the needs of the local workforce and what can be done educationally to better meet the needs of local employers.

"I truly believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really do some great things through our community colleges and invest in our community colleges in a way that will put Texas on a path to continue to lead the world in so many areas," VanDeaver said.

The Texas Workforce Commission shows that by 2030, 62% of all Texas jobs will require a postsecondary credential. Currently, only 48% of Texans have earned a postsecondary credential of any kind.

Additionally, 54% of jobs in Texas are considered middle-skill, meaning that they require a postsecondary credential beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree. Only 45% of Texans are sufficiently trained for these types of jobs.

This leaves the state with a 9-percentage point "middle skills gap" estimated at 1.4 million Texans.

"Over the past year or so, I've seen reports that say Texas has an unemployment rate of zero. In other words, for every Texan looking for a job, there is a job. So, I ask myself, 'Why are there so many Texans who are unemployed?'

"And the answer, I think, is that between the jobs that are available and the Texans who are looking for jobs, the skill set does not line up. The skill sets required in the job market have changed."

As the 2023 legislative session approaches, VanDeaver said the commission is preparing recommendations to the state Legislature on improving funding, providing dual-credit opportunities and more at local community colleges.

"The current funding model results in inequities all across the state among colleges, and our small and rural colleges often lag in the resources they have," he said. "That has to change."

The commission is planning to recommend an increase in funding in Texas Educational Opportunity grants, as well as propose providing financial aid for economically disadvantaged students in dual-credit courses.

VanDeaver said he wants to expand community college partnerships with employers to have paid, work-based learning opportunities, as well as make credentials more stackable and convertible to other credit-bearing programs.

"What we often find is these young people and not-so young people want to be trained and learn these skills to go into the workforce, but they can't quit their job to get their training," he said. "What we're proposing is a program that would allow the college to partner with local employers to allow these students to have work-based training and be paid while doing it."

The commission is also going to recommend an investment in college capacity, including one-time seed grants to community colleges for programs in high-demand bills.

"The Texas miracle is alive and well, but if we are going to continue this economic trajectory we're on we must recognize the workforce needs on a regional level, and then design an education system to provide those skills necessary to meet those regional needs.

"I tell people often that we will not legislate our way to a better Texas. We will not regulate our way to a better Texas. We must educate our way to a better Texas. And now more than ever, I'm convinced that the key to educating our way to a better Texas lies in our community colleges."

After VanDeaver's speech, Texarkana ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker announced his district's plans to launch a new P-Tech program through a partnership with TC and local industry partners. P-Tech stands for Pathways in Technology.

P-Tech offers individual pathways for students to simultaneously obtain their high school diploma and a two-year associate degree, while also gaining workplace experience. The program is meant to better provide affordable pathways for students early on in their educational careers to contribute to local workforce needs when they graduate, Burbaker said.

"The pathway we are focusing on initially is teacher education," Brubaker said. "The teacher shortage in Texas is a real thing, so we want to expand that pipeline of talent from our high school to TC, to Texas A&M University-Texarkana and then back into our classrooms."

He said the program will eventually focus on pathways to other job fields like health care, construction, energy, information and computer technology.

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