Despite Historic Economic Success, Strength, Texas Workforce Leaders Eye Opportunities to Improve the State’s Workforce

Michael Wood, Managing Director, Education & Workforce

Nearly three years after a historic economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas’ workforce is thriving.

That fact is likely clear to those that follow economic and workforce trends, but Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Bryan Daniel was sure to point out just how well the state’s economy is performing during the Dallas Regional Chamber’s 2022 State of the Workforce event, presented by BGSF and Texas Mutual.

“Texas is sitting at all-time highs in about half of our major industries,” said Daniel. “There are more people working in Texas today in payroll jobs than ever have in the history of the state.”

Other indicators reinforce the current strength of Texas’ economy and workforce. Statewide labor force participation is at 63.5%, roughly 1.5 percentage-points higher than the national average. Unemployment is 4%, near historic lows. And over the past 12 months, the state economy added more than 600,000 jobs.

Still, Daniel believes there is room for improvement. For one, the current Texas workforce looks different than Texas’ pre-pandemic workforce. Today, there are more women working in Texas than before COVID-19 but fewer men, due in large part to a decline in labor force participation among men ages 18 through 24.

Daniel also wants to make sure the state remains on the cutting-edge in workforce development. The challenge, however, is in anticipating future employer needs.

“If we already know about the occupation, it’s really not innovative anymore in business,” said Daniel.

What we do know, said Daniel, is that there is a mismatch between the types of training jobs require and the types of training Texans have. Roughly 35% of jobs in Texas require at least a four-year degree, 8% do not require any training after high school, and 57% require some postsecondary training but not a 4-year degree. Conversely, about 40% of Texans have a four-year degree, 21% have no training after high school, and 34% have some postsecondary training but not a four-year degree.

The opportunity for Texas, then, is in the “big middle” – or those jobs that require some postsecondary training yet not a university degree. Daniel stressed the need for universities, community colleges, and high schools to identify innovative ways to prepare students, incumbent workers, and unemployed individuals for these “big middle” jobs, especially in perennially high-demand fields, such as nursing.

Similarly, local workforce development leaders spoke to the importance of employers and jobseekers informing educational and training opportunities. Throughout the pandemic, the Federal Reserve Bank has played a central role in elevating community-based best practices to facilitate economic recovery and workforce development.

“One of the things we are finding out is that you can have programs and all the data that you need, but you’ve got to have the people in communities diagnosing what they need,” said Alfreda Norman, Senior Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “The answer in El Paso is different than the answer in South Dallas.”

Likewise, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, the local board of the Texas Workforce Commission, has placed an emphasis on re-engaging employers in discussions on their talent needs.

“It has been very difficult to re-engage employers and get employers out of the urgent mode that they were in during COVID,” said Laurie Larrea, President & CEO of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas. “[Employers] have to come to the table and tell us what workforce they need.”

Representative Chris Turner (D – Grand Prairie), the Chair of Texas’ House Committee on Business and Industry, believes that the state legislature – armed with a nearly $30 billion budget surplus – will place considerable focus on workforce development in the upcoming legislative session.

“Bottom line, a high school diploma – nine out of 10 times – is not going to cut it to be successful in the workforce,” said Turner. “The good news is, I think we know what the steps that we can take are.”

Specifically, Chairman Turner noted his support for investing in the state’s community colleges and postsecondary transfer framework to simplify pathways for students, especially into jobs Chairman Daniel would classify as the “big middle.”

The 2022 State of the Workforce was presented by BGSF and Texas Mutual Insurance. Bank of America was a Gold Sponsor. Amazon and Oncor were Silver Sponsors.

To learn more about the legislative efforts to support higher education and align postsecondary training with workforce needs, please join the DRC for the 2023 State of Higher Education, presented by McCownGordon Construction, on Friday, February 10 from 8:00 to 10:30 AM.