May 2021
Workforce Support Remains Critical Amid Continuing, Uneven Job Recovery
Job growth persisted and the number of new unemployment insurance (UI) claims continued to decline across the Houston MSA in April, though unemployment rates in Houston and Texas still lag behind the national rate, according to monthly employment reports.

The region gained 18,700 jobs from March to April, with the leisure and hospitality, and professional and business service sectors leading the gains, according to the Gulf Coast Workforce Board's April Employment Situation report. Areas reporting job losses included trade, transportation and utilities; and manufacturing. The Houston MSA unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) decreased to 7.1%, down from 8.0% in March. The statewide unemployment rate was 6.3% in April, just higher than the national rate of 5.7%. The number of unemployed individuals in Houston decreased to 240,710 in April from March's 270,960 figure.

Statewide, nonfarm employment increased in April by 13,000 jobs, with the largest gains seen in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors, according to the April Texas Labor Market Report. Unemployment rates continue to vary by gender, age, race and education:
  • Females: 7.9% 
  • Males: 8.0%
  • Age 16-19: 17.4%
  • Age 20-24: 13.2%
  • Age 25-34: 8.8%
  • White: 7.3%
  • Black: 12.2%
  • Hispanic: 9.4%
  • No high school diploma: 10.7%
  • High School diploma: 8.8%
  • Some college/Associate degree: 7.9%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 4.4%
This month, Governor Abbott announced that Texas is opting out of all Federal unemployment assistance programs after June 26. This includes the extra $300 federal benefit and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that provides aid to gig workers, self-employed, and others not traditionally covered under UI. As has been reported, reliance on UI benefits is the not the major reason a majority of job seekers have remained out of the workforce. Rather, considerations including low salaries, concerns around exposure to COVID, and family care are among top reasons would-be workers have rejected job offers, according to one CNBC survey. In addition, 87% of individuals surveyed indicated they had not received a job offer in the last six months.

Clearly, Texas is a long way from a full recovery, and an equitable one. This edition of the UpSkill UpDate highlights opportunities and efforts underway to help displaced workers re-enter the workforce into good jobs and career pathways, and to connect employers with the talent they need at this critical point in our recovery.

See the Gulf Coast Workforce Board's complete Houston Employment Situation here and the Texas Workforce Commission's Texas Labor Market Report here.
UpSkill @ Work
UpSkill Works Forum Returns with Spotlight on New Frontiers for Apprenticeship Programs
Greater Houston's employers have a valuable tool to develop the specific, and rapidly changing, skills they need in their workers – apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are making a comeback, breaking into high-value, middle-skills jobs with the potential to unlock incredible value in Houston's dynamic economy.

UpSkill Houston will welcome Joseph B. Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, back to its UpSkill Works Forum series on June 10 for a conversation that will dispel some of today's myths and misconceptions around apprenticeship programs and highlight the untapped opportunities for apprenticeship programs in Houston.

Fuller co-leads Harvard's Managing the Future of Work project and co-authored the joint Harvard and Burning Glass Technologies report "Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers in Apprenticeships."

He visited Houston in October 2019 to explore programs that offer pathways into meaningful careers and how academic programs are aligned to meet industry standards and needs. While here, he met with UpSkill Houston partners and appeared as the UpSkill Works Forum's inaugural guest, speaking to the need for businesses to embrace change, integrate work-based learning practices and improve access to workforce, education, and career information.
The UpSkill Works Forum series resumes June 10 with the return of guest Joseph B. Fuller of Harvard Business School
Fuller will be joined on June 10 by leaders of the new Greater Houston Apprentice Network (GHAN) including Dawn Spreeman-Heine, Aon managing director of commercial risk solutions, and Mary Beth Gracy, Accenture Houston officer managing director and Partnership Board member, who will detail the coalition and its work to help local Houston businesses establish successful apprenticeship programs and its upcoming launch event and information session.

The Forum will be the first installment of this two-part GHAN series on apprenticeships.
Lawmakers Advance Key Recovery, Workforce Development Efforts to Ensure Strong Future
State lawmakers have taken up key measures during their final push to the end of the 87th Legislative Session – to help displaced workers gain skills and credentials to help them re-enter the workforce and improve long-term workforce development outcomes.

The Senate and House have both approved bills to establish the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling though Education (TRUE) program, which will help higher education and business partners across the state collaborate to provide well designed, quickly obtained credentials for displaced and underemployed workers. TRUE would invest funds to allow eligible higher education institutions to build capacity to expand new, accelerated, and redesigned workforce training programs that teach in-demand skills and confer certifications or credentials. This increased capacity is vital to attaining the state's higher education goals and boosting the economy. The Senate and House bills differ, and the Senate will have the decision on whether to accept the House version or negotiate. The Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) and the Partnership have supported this measure since its inception. TACC Chair and San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer is a member of UpSkill Houston's executive committee.

Both chambers also passed slightly different versions of to permanently align the work of the state’s three major education and workforce bodies, thus strengthening the Texas talent pipeline and improving workforce development outcomes across the state. Such a state led Tri-Agency Workforce initiative would coordinate and optimize information and resources of, and align and drive performance across, Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission. It would also create a unified workforce data repository that would improve the Texas longitudinal data systems to identify and analyze key trends in education and workforce. Ensuring a strong workforce now and in the generations to come will require sustained alignment, innovation, and performance; a formalized Tri-Agency initiative can help Texas achieve this goal. The House now needs to decide whether to accept the Senate's changes or negotiate a final version.

Peter Beard, Partnership Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development and leader of the UpSkill Houston initiative, testified in support of both the TRUE and Tri-Agency plans as they moved through the committee process in both chambers.
'Just-in-Time' Hiring a Luxury of the Past, Strategic Focus on Skills Key in Post-Pandemic Economy
Companies no longer have the luxury of "just-in-time" hiring, hoping to find talent to meet immediate needs. Instead, they must strategically and proactively prepare for an unknown future by focusing on upskilling employees for expanded career pathways and reconsidering their value propositions to employees.

These insights came from a Partnership Restart Houston discussion of upskilling and reskilling the region’s workforce for the post-pandemic economy held in May between Tamla Oates-Forney, Waste Management senior vice president and chief people officer, Louise Wiggins, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partner and managing director, and Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of regional workforce development and leader of its UpSkill Houston initiative. Wiggins also serves on UpSkill Houston's executive committee.

Wiggins and Oates-Forney discussed how companies are responding to the decreasing 'half-life' of skills, rapid change in the jobs need and how those jobs are done, and the increasing unpredictability of what jobs will be in demand in the future: They are investing in existing talent to build skills that open new career pathways.

Read more from this session on the Partnership's Houston Report blog.
Houston's Digital Future Built on Partnerships, Alignment of Education and In-Demand Skills
Youth Employment Program Exceeds Job Goal, Provides Critical Experience for Young Workforce
Area employers are ready to welcome young employees for the summer through the Mayor's Office of Education Hire Houston Youth initiative. This year, roughly 175 employers and more than 50 nonprofits are providing more than 6,060 job opportunities to youth between the ages of 16 and 24 years old though the program, exceeding the 5,000-job goal set this spring, according to the Mayor's Office. Summer opportunities offered through the initiative will begin in mid-June and conclude in mid-August.

Internships, pre-apprenticeship and other career-connected learning programs can help students and young people connect with good careers, especially during this time of double-digit unemployment rates among 16- to 24-year-olds. These programs help participants understand various, less visible, roles and occupations within an industry or organization; identify multiple pathways into industries, businesses, or specific occupations; and develop skills they can use to earn credentials or certification and build their careers.

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Led by and for employers, UpSkill Houston builds the pipeline of skilled workers to grow the regional economy and provide opportunity for all Houstonians.
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