October 19, 2004
Lauded as one of the nation’s most dynamic economic regions, Central Texas has emerged as a strong competitor in the global economy thanks to its high tech, life sciences and business services sectors. Over the past decade, Forbes magazine has consistently ranked Austin at the top of its national list of best metro areas to launch a business or a career, citing the region’s educated workforce as a key asset.
Home to seven colleges and universities, Central Texas would appear to be poised to continue fueling its knowledge-based economy with an ample supply of skilled workers. But recent studies that show declining numbers of Central Texas high school students moving on to post-secondary education cast an ominous shadow over the region’s economic outlook.
“If we don’t help transition a lot more kids to post-secondary education over the five years,” said Capital Area Training Foundation (CATF) executive director John Fitzpatrick, ”we will not have a workforce with the education and skills needed for the 21st century."
To tackle the problem Fitzpatrick (LBJ School Class of 1996) is leading an LBJ School policy research project (PRP) with CATF deputy director Hannah Gourgey and Chris King and Deanna Schexnayder of the LBJ School’s Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources.
In addition to his work with the CATF, Fitzpatrick is a trustee of the Austin Independent School District and the vice president for workforce development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
“The challenge we have today,” he said, “is that we don’t have a good way of determining what happens to high school students. As post-secondary education and workforce training become more important we have to ensure that young people become productive members of our society.”
Documenting the outcomes and experiences of high school students is a crucial first step in addressing the needs of this large segment of the Central Texas labor market. The primary goal of the PRP is to establish a comprehensive mechanism that will track the post-secondary education patterns of students in the region’s five school districts. In May 2005, the PRP team will present a final report to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and local and state education leaders.
A detailed picture of the educational outcomes of high school students will guide education, business and community leaders in developing a more effective workforce system that targets students at risk for dropping out. A tracking system will also help enhance interventions such as school-to-career programs, which have been shown to strengthen school performance by deepening the ties between academics and job opportunities.
“Workforce policy should be harnessed to thoughtful economic development and driven by employers offering high-skills jobs and high wages,” said King, who is the director of the Ray Marshall Center and one of the nation’s preeminent experts on workforce issues.
To ensure that the recommendations of the project reflect this standard, PRP team members will conduct extensive interviews with state and local policymakers, education and workforce administrators, employers, and researchers.
King said he expects the results of the PRP to trigger similar efforts around the state to improve the transition of high school students into post-secondary education, workforce training and careers.
“This project will have lasting effects and may lead to new workforce legislation,” he said.
He noted that over the past decade Texas has emerged as a leader in pioneering progressive workforce legislation. The LBJ School and Ray Marshall Center have played instrumental roles in shaping the two pieces of legislation that laid the groundwork for Texas’ current workforce development system – Senate Bill 642 (1993) and House Bill 1863 (1995). Both laws served as a model for the design of the federal Workforce Investment Act signed by President Bill Clinton in1998.
Senate Bill 642 began the process of repairing a fragmented administration of workforce services by directing agencies to plan for consolidation of many different programs that spanned a number of state agencies. A PRP conducted by LBJ School Professor Kenneth Tolo and Marshall Center researcher Robert Glover, which resulted in the report Bridging the Gap: Implementing School-to-Work Transition in Austin, also influenced the creation of local workforce development boards. As a result, the Capital Area Training Foundation was established in 1994.
According to King, SB 642 did not go far enough and additional legislation was needed to empower the local boards.
“There was a sense in the legislature that there was work left to do after Senate Bill 642,” he said. “[State Senator] Rodney Ellis picked up the project, which led to House Bill 1863 in 1995. This mandated the consolidation of 28 funding streams and programs in ten agencies into the Texas Workforce Commission and further block granted funding to what became 28 local workforce boards.”
Based on past experience, King anticipates that the legislature will be open to discussions on workforce issues and high school students, as long as there is comprehensive research to guide the policy formulation.
“These are nonpartisan issues that garner broad support,” said King. “Both parties agree that effective interventions are tax money well spent and serve the interests of business and community.”
Skillpoint Alliance (formerly Capital Area Training Foundation)
The Future of Labor
Unions: Organized Labor in the 21st Century
© Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
October 19, 2004
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