Report Urges More Funding for Job Training Programs

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 7, 2013.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 7, 2013.

A new workforce report released Wednesday by the Texas comptroller’s office emphasizes the promise and pitfalls of Texas’ recent economic success for workers, highlighting the importance of investing in training and education to keep up with a rapidly changing employment landscape.

The Texas Workforce Report urges lawmakers to take several specific steps to ensure that Texas’ burgeoning youth population can meet employers’ demands as it moves into the workforce. The recommendations include greater funding for adult education programs, incentives for business to create apprenticeship programs, and multimedia information campaigns to promote industry-based certification.

Following up on the office’s Texas Works 2008 report, the new document says Texas — like all states — must reckon with a world in which steady, unskilled jobs are close to a thing of the past. The modern worker must be technologically savvy and adaptable, open to becoming a lifelong learner, the report says.

Texas faces some unique demographic challenges: The state’s under-18 population grew 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, 6.5 times the national rate, and its workforce is slated to grow much faster than the rest of the country in the next few decades. Though this shift offers Texas tools to mitigate the impending retirement of baby boomers that other states lack, it also means that job training and education programs are critical to bolster, the report says.

Though employers have had millions of unfilled jobs in recent years, unemployment remained high nationally because of a “skills gap”: Those seeking work weren’t qualified for the available jobs. In Texas, this has particularly been an issue in San Antonio, the report said.

“Before the skills gap gets to a breaking point, it is important that we realize today’s best jobs require ever-increasing levels of specialized knowledge and technical expertise,” Comptroller Susan Combs said in a statement.

Texas has led the nation in job growth in recent years, but the report cites its educational attainment as lagging — a source of worry, since 85 percent of jobs in 2014 require some post-secondary education.

The comptroller’s 2008 report led the Legislature to create a Jobs and Education for Texans fund that is set to train over 69,000 students, but this week’s report says there is still much to do in building up job training programs.

An estimated 26,500 to 42,300 Texans are currently on waiting lists for adult education programs. Among adults without a high school diploma, state funding for adult education in 2010 was $4.83 per capita in Texas, compared with $106.27 in California. The report calls on the state to increase funding for the programs and streamline the process to reduce waiting lists.

As early college high school programs rapidly expand in the coming school year in Texas, the report urges funding for closer examination and further growth if they’re proven successful. The programs offer at-risk students alternative education to receive a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or credit toward a bachelor’s by the time they finish high school.

Career and technical education programs, which supplement traditional coursework with technical training, sometimes face “unfairly negative perceptions” from students who view college as more desirable, according to the report. But a sustained media campaign to promote them, it argues, could direct some people to industries that are a better fit.