A new study suggests that Texas will be in a workplace crisis by 2036.

Texas 2036 is a non-partisan 501©3 nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining the success of Texas. It released a new website and data platform in October 2018 that includes a reporting tool with data from schools and cities across the state.

“A large employable workforce is essential to Texas’ ability to compete in the global economy,” the organization’s website reads. “Texas is not producing enough graduates with a certificate or degree to meet future workforce demands.”

The organization suggests that Texas’ population is forecasted to increase 40% by 2036, totaling 41 million people. New jobs needed by 2036 to maintain Texas’ current unemployment rate of 4.3% will be between 4.5 and 7.8 million.

By 2020, 65% of jobs will require a certificate or a two- or four-year degree, and currently only 23% of students meet that criteria.

Angelina County had an 81.1% high school graduation rate from 2013-2017, with 16.7% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher for persons aged 25 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Work has just begun on this issue in the Texas Legislature. Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) authored House Bill 3511 to create a Commission on the Texas Workforce of the Future.

“I think the Workforce Commission bill has the potential to do some really great things,” VanDeaver said. “I’m not a fan of commissions, I never have been, but I have to say, after the results of the school finance commission from last session and the work they did in the interim, I thought, man, if we can do that for workforce development, that’s going to be a home run for Texas.”

The commission was designed to build legislation that would retool the education system to meet the future needs of the Texas workforce.

“We tend to continue training people for the jobs we used to have,” VanDeaver said. “We know that’s not where we need to be.”

However, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 15. In his veto statement, the governor said the bill was redundant of the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative comprised of the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“Since 2016, those three agencies have worked to assess local economic activity, examine workforce challenges and opportunities, and consider innovative approaches to meeting the state’s workforce goals,” Abbott wrote. “Together, they are implementing reforms that will improve the quality of education and the workforce in Texas. We need to give those changes a chance to succeed before we start adding bureaucracy and duplicating effort through creation of an expansive new commission.”

WorkForce Solutions of Deep East Texas is an association of business, education, work, government and organizations of the community dedicated to provide services to individuals to prepare them to take advantage of the opportunities of work and career and to provide business with a qualified workforce.

Texas Workforce Solutions is comprised of the Texas Workforce Commission and a statewide network of 28 Workforce Development Boards. WorkForce Solutions of DET is governed by a 29-member workforce board from the 12 counties it serves. Executive director Mark Durand said the board is comprised of legislators, educators, industry leaders, local business owners and more, many from Angelina County.

WorkForce Solutions of DET provides six centers to serve its 12 counties. The centers are physical locations community members can access with a range of services offered to everyone, regardless of income.

Lufkin’s center is at 210 N. John Redditt Drive and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Project director Billy Reddick said people register and complete a profile on the online program Work in Texas. Then they meet with a talent acquisition specialist for an initial assessment.

“In the initial assessment, we’re looking at any barriers they have for employment or education, their work history, education and the goals they have,” Reddick said.

Then people can use WorkForce solutions resources to job search on their own or set up a supervised job search session. WorkForce Solutions offers courses in soft skills and virtual workshops where people can interact with the facilitator. Reddick said these online resources help the six counties where they do not have centers.

Durand said a current focus of the board has been to link the workforce and education system to help prepare students who will be entering the workforce for careers that meet the demands of the industry.

Durand said the education system is stepping up. There is now a partnership among the industry, education and economic development that benefits from grants and services offered by WorkForce Solutions.

“With unemployment rates so low right now, the goal is to increase and upgrade the skills of the workers that we do have so that they can meet the demand of employers in our region,” Durand said. “The partnership between us and education is to make sure that they have the equipment they need to meet the needs of the employer.”

Tim Ditoro, Angelina College Dean of Community Services, said providing programs and courses leading to certification or licensure is a big part of the Community Services Division.

“Many of our programs can be completed in a semester or less, such as our allied health courses, police and fire academies, commercial driver’s license (Class A), manufacturing skills and heavy equipment operator,” Ditoro said. “Our medical assistant program takes under a year to complete. We are an eligible training provider for many of these courses through WorkForce Solutions Deep East Texas, which means that local residents may qualify for scholarships from Workforce Solutions to attend these classes.”

In addition to funding assistance from WorkForce Solutions, AC’s Adult Education and Literacy program also provides scholarships for many of these courses to individuals if they attend classes for high school equivalency or English as a second language, Ditoro said.

“Community Services has resources to respond to employers’ needs for providing certifications and continuing education,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to develop and provide high quality educational programs and services in all of our programs. We want to increase access to these programs across our community, and we are working to do that through numerous regional partnerships and our Adult Education and Literacy program.”

The Community Services Division also offers summer camps to get kids interested in high demand trade skills early on and offers a variety of services through its Nonprofit Leadership Center, Procurement Technical Assistance Center and Small Business Development Center.

For individuals seeking a career in an occupation that is in demand in the 12-county area, WorkForce Solutions of DET offers financial assistance of up to $8,000 in two years.

“The city of Lufkin has done such a great job in attracting new businesses, but now we need to make sure we have enough qualified workers to go to work for them,” Durand said.

“In my generation, there was a big push on getting a college education,” Reddick said. “Now what’s happening, when you look at employer needs, employers can’t wait four years for someone to graduate from college. They need someone to go in, get the training, get the certification they need now and start working six months, nine months, 12 months from now.”

One current need is in the trade fields like plumbers, electricians, HVAC and more. In a six- to eight-year span, many of these employees will be leaving the workforce through retirement or attrition, Durand said.

The WorkForce Solutions business team works hand-in-hand with employers finding vacant jobs or needed skills. Then they work with talent acquisition specialists to get that information in the system and job matching job seekers with employers.

By June 2019, there had been more than 2,200 placements in the 12-county region since October 2018.

Duran said the center wants employers to utilize their resources, including an employer room on-site to be used for interviews at no cost.

The business team is also responsible for hosting job hiring events throughout the counties. MegaJobs Fest, WorkForce Solutions of DET’s biggest hiring event of the year, is coming up on Aug. 15. During the MegaJobs Fest, employers from all 12 counties who have open job orders in the system gather and invite job seekers to come in, talk to them and even interview on the spot.

Since his time as project director, Reddick said he hasn’t noticed any issues with the system on the inside. The trouble is getting job seekers in the door.

“Whenever I first got here, I heard Mark say this slogan, ‘We are the best kept secret in Deep East Texas,’ and I think that’s the issue,” Reddick said. “Enough people do not know about all of the services that we offer.”

“There’s that mystique that we’re the unemployment office, and other people think that we’re a welfare-type program,” Durand said. “We need to get over that conception.”

Durand benefited from the services offered at WorkForce Solutions before he became executive director.

“I worked in health care for 16 years,” he said. “A white collar worker, assistant administrator at a hospital, I was laid off my job due to no fault of my own, just cutbacks and things like that, I was eligible for services here. I came in, utilized the resource room, applied for unemployment, did some job search classes.

“We’re not the unemployment office, we’re not welfare. We assist those individuals, but we have a lot more services to offer.”

“Our No. 1 goal across all of our programs is to help people get to work as quickly as possible in a career or job that they are interested in,” Reddick said.

Reddick encouraged people around the community to refer those in need to the center and what it has to offer.

“The good thing about our services is that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who is looking for a job,” Reddick said.

For more information on WorkForce Solutions of DET, visit detwork.org. For more information about Texas 2036, visit texas2036.org.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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