Inaugural State of the Workforce Highlights COVID-19 Disruptions and Unveils Ambitious Talent Development Plan

Michael Wood, Manager, Education & Workforce

Employers across the country recognize that a reliable and robust workforce pipeline is fundamental to sustainable business. While investing in talent development was a priority for employers prior the pandemic, COVID-19 has only exacerbated existing workforce deficiencies, complicating the road to economic recovery for many industries and sectors.

During its inaugural State of the Workforce event, the Dallas Regional Chamber convened business, education, and government leaders to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the North Texas economy and highlighted innovative efforts to address regional workforce needs.

Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman and Commissioner Bryan Daniel has helped lead the state’s response to widespread workforce disruptions amid the pandemic. Since mid-March, TWC has completed nearly 6 million unemployment claims. Claims hit a fever pitch in April, when the agency fielded more than 400,000 claims in a single week (compared to an average of 12,000 per week). Today, the unemployment rate has stabilized but is still far from ideal.

Yet the surge in unemployment has had its silver linings, said Daniel. For one, TWC has implemented significant technological upgrades to improve its unemployment insurance processes. In addition, TWC and its 28 partner local workforce boards have scaled access to virtual trainings to help displaced workers sharpen and develop skillsets aligned with emerging employer needs.

“For someone who finds themselves on unemployment benefits, not sure where they’re going to go next for a job, work on that training,” said Daniel. “It gives you some opportunities to explore some careers you might not otherwise have thought about.”

Despite the disruptions, Daniel and TWC remain focused on the issues that plagued Texas’ workforce pipeline before the pandemic. Through the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, a collaborative effort with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), TWC is working to better align the state’s education and training programs with workforce needs through direct feedback from employers.

A central goal of this effort is bridging the “middle skills gap,” or the deficit of workers with high-demand and often specialized credentials in between a high school diploma and four-year degree, such as a trade or IT certificate. More than 800,000 well-paying jobs remain either unfilled or uncreated due to Texas’ substantial lack of workers with these skillsets, noted Daniel.

Still, the commissioner sees Texas’ workforce as its number one recruitment tool for businesses looking to relocate. Continuing to ensure that the skillsets of Texas workers is calibrated with employer demand is critical to keeping these businesses in the state.

“Texas will succeed if Texans succeed,” said Daniel. “[We have to] communicate with each other so that employers can understand which programs they need, leave the ones they don’t, create the jobs they need to create, and then get the talent in there that they need to do it.”

Following Daniel’s conversation with BGSF President and CEO Beth Garvey, a panel of regional business, education, and government leaders spoke further on the need to align systems to create an equitable and effective talent pipeline.

“It’s a really novel idea to have [employers] work with your universities and your communities to identify what kids should know and be able to do to be successful in the workforce,” said Dr. D’Andre Weaver, Superintendent of DeSoto ISD.

The panelists were united in their belief that improving the Dallas Region’s workforce pipeline will require meaningful cross-sector collaboration. The nursing shortage can be addressed by driving awareness of and access to health professions in schools, argued Winjie Tang Miao, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Experience Officer for Texas Health Resources. Ben Magill, Associate Vice Chancellor of Economic Opportunity for Dallas College, noted the college’s efforts to better align career pathways from PK-12 systems through institutions of higher education. Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas President & CEO Laurie Bouillion Larrea said her agency is tailoring training opportunities based on shared data from employers and education institutions.

System alignment is a key cornerstone of Dallas Thrives, a new community initiative announced during State of the Workforce.

Spearheaded by the DRC and the Commit Partnership, Dallas Thrives aims to double the number of young adults in Dallas earning a living wage by the year 2040. The effort will bring together regional business, education, government, and philanthropic partners to strengthen North Texas’ workforce pipeline with a critical eye on eliminating inequities in living wage attainment between White residents and their Black and Latinx peers.

“By giving an equal likelihood of earning a living wage for everybody, where race and place are no longer an indicator of success, we will be helping Dallas live up to its ideal of being the best place for all people to live, work, and do business,” said Drexell Owusu, Senior Vice President of Education & Workforce at the DRC.

The State of the Workforce was presented by BGSF and Texas Mutual. Southwest Airlines was a gold sponsor for the event; Capital One Bank and Oncor were silver sponsors. A pre-event VIP reception was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, with VIP Attendee sponsors Simmons Bank, Texas Woman’s University, Toyota Motor North America, and University of North Texas System.