The Crucial Ingredient to Keep the Texas Economy Sizzling Is a Stronger Workforce

The secret sauce to the Texas economy is its workforce.Low taxes, minimal regulations and plenty of oil might be what draw people to Texas, but what’s driving the economy is more workers arriving every year, bringing their skills and their families and their spending money.Feeding this workforce beast are people relocating to Texas from other states and countries. But our education system isn’t keeping up. Too many people fail to get any education beyond high school, leaving them without the skills or adaptability our economy increasingly demands. Unless that changes, the "Texas Miracle" could reach its limit.“Growth in the workforce plus growth and productivity, that's GDP,” said Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan at a recent meeting with the Dallas Morning News editorial board. “One of the impacts of technology and technology-enabled disruption is the structure of the economy is changing very dramatically. There's a premium like never before in our lifetimes on workforce adaptability. Education helps the workforce be more adaptable; being able to go and get retrained in a skill makes the workforce more adaptable. We've got 46 million workers in this country that have a high school education or less, out of a workforce of about 160 million workers.”According to the 2017 American Community Survey, only 44.7 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had an associate's degree or higher. In Texas, that percentage is only 39.The problem isn’t that immigrants are coming for our low-wage jobs, it’s that technology is coming for those jobs. And Texans aren’t getting the education they need to land better jobs.An example Kaplan gives is car dealerships. Remember the ordeal of buying a car decades ago? You had to go to multiple dealerships, compare the cars available and prices, make a selection and then negotiate the price. Now, you can do all of that online, then head to a dealership to make the final purchase. Those car salespeople are not as valuable as they once were.The same goes for travel agents, bank tellers, shoe salespeople and so many other professions that used to be part of everyday life, but we rely on less because of our computers and smartphones.But you know what professions haven’t gone away, and in fact have become more important? People who handle the more complex technology we rely on. Automotive technicians, IT professionals and logistics experts who make sure the stuff we order online arrives at our homes promptly.To perform the new blue-collar jobs, what many are calling middle-skills jobs, a person needs at least 14 years of education. A high school diploma won’t do it.Susan Dawson, president of E3 Alliance, an Austin collaboration to create an educational pipeline, said three key numbers show the broad problem: 42, 14 and 12. At a Texas Lyceum conference in February she said: 42 percent of students in Texas gain postsecondary credentials of some kind, including associate's degrees or higher. 14 percent of low-income high school graduates get some kind of post-high school credential within six years of graduating. A high school student who fails to get more education has just a 12 percent chance of earning a living wage. Dawson said the debate about whether all kids need to go to college misses the broader point. “You have to help people understand that college is not just a four-year degree; it can be two-year degree or a skills certificate,” she said.  Continue reading...

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