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Workforce Program Aims To Close Houston Area Skills Gap

Greater Houston Partnership initiative connects industry leaders with educators and nonprofits.



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The Houston economy is doing pretty well – better than in most other U.S. cities. Job growth is high, and at 5 percent, unemployment is relatively low here. But that doesn’t mean all is perfect.

“On one hand we have a large number of unfilled middle-skilled jobs and on the other hand too many underemployed or unemployed Houstonians,” said Gina Luna, vice chair of the GHP and head of JPMorgan Chase in Houston.

She co-chaired the Partnership’s Regional Workforce Development Task Force that created the UpSkill Houston program.

The initiative aims to close the skills gap by connecting industry leaders, educators and social service organizations in seven different “councils” dedicated to specific industry sectors.

“Each of the seven industry sector-councils will work with and collaborate with education,” Luna said. “For example, one of the jobs of the sector-councils is to define the critical occupations within that industry and define then the critical skills required to do those jobs, and then to communicate that to community colleges, to high schools.”

Those seven sectors are the industries that are most important to the Houston economy: advanced manufacturing, construction, healthcare, oil and gas, petrochemical, ports and maritime, and utilities.

Brenda Hellyer is the chancellor of San Jacinto College. Like other community colleges, San Jac offers workforce training to its students. She said the new initiative helps in that mission.

“The success of our programs is based on providing the right kind of skill sets that these employers need,” Hellyer said. “And it is to make sure that we are providing the skills they need from a hard skill set or also a soft skill set. And so being able to hear what are those real needs they have and then how do we change our curriculum to meet those needs. And also being able to know what are specific jobs that they are going to need.”

Also part of the plan is an awareness campaign that spreads the word about the availability of the many well-paying middle-skills jobs that are out there.

The GHP will also work with the United Way Thrive initiative, which can address basic skills and employability through the many social service agencies that are part of it.

Luna said while other states and metros have similar initiatives, the Houston area program is unique in its cross-sector approach.

GHP President Bob Harvey announces the launch of the UpSkill Houston program at the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.

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