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Andres Alcantar, Dr. Joe May and Robert Kaplan
Panel discussion about the skills gap in today’s workforce (L to R): Andres Alcantar, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission; Dr. May; Robert Kaplan, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

​Contact: Cesar Canizales

For immediate release — Sept. 11, 2017

(DALLAS) — In a recent conference that addressed the growing skills gap in Texas and across the United States in general, Dr. Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, and Robert Kaplan, president and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, both said prospects for economic and job growth are high in Texas. However, they added that the skills gap in the labor force is creating worker shortages that will require joint efforts among higher education institutions, governments and private industry to correct.

The discussion between the two leaders was part of the conference titled “Inspiring the North American Workforce,” which was presented in partnership between DCCCD and the North American Strategy for Competitiveness, a network of businesses, governmental and educational institutions that seek to enhance North America’s economic prospects in today’s global economy.

May said one the biggest problems with the skills gap is that educational institutions are not doing a good job of preventing young people from falling through the cracks in two ways: first, during transitions between organizations and institutions; and through a misalignment that exists between workers and the skills that are needed for today’s industries.

“We lose people between eighth and ninth grades,” May said. “We lose people between high school and college. We lose people who graduate and want to enter the workforce.”

The disruptions during these handoffs and the misalignment in the needs of the economy means that jobs are going unfilled, according to May. “Communities that do the best job of handoffs are going to be the most successful,” he added.

A Skilled Workforce Means Higher Economic Growth

Kaplan said the labor shortage exists in Texas, and it includes skilled workers. However, some businesses also are having difficulty finding unskilled workers, and that (situation) is affecting the economy.

“Every job that goes unfilled means lower gross domestic product and slower growth — and we can’t afford that,” Kaplan said. “There are a number of things we can do to improve GDP and productivity, and one of them is getting people into the workforce. The higher the skilled jobs, the higher GDP is going to be.”

Kaplan pointed out that a connection exists between educational levels and employment. “If you have a college education, you’re probably more to able to adapt and get retrained,” Kaplan asserted. “Lower education attainment levels make you less and less and less adaptable.”

attendees listen to speakers at the workforce forum

May pointed out that recent surveys showed that a majority of people are questioning the value of higher education. He added that some people say “college is not for everyone,” which he called a dangerous proposition that is misunderstood.

“What we mean is that a four-year degree or an advanced degree is not necessary,” May said. “What we need is to have a conversation about what it’s going to take to grow the workforce and the economy. Simply getting more people into the workforce is a game changer, and if we set that as a goal, we can make a difference.”

Kaplan said a big challenge in the country is how to get people with a high school degree or less into the workforce and into the middle class. He added that “skills training is essential” to accomplishing that (goal).

“This has to be done locally. It has to be a partnership with local businesses, local education institutions and local governments,” Kaplan said.

May said DCCCD “dives deep” into industries’ business models to figure out the skills challenges they face and how to align the college programs to address them. Getting students involved at an early stage is helpful, too, he said.

“What we’re seeing is that the sooner we can get students engaged with employers, the more likely we are to meet those needs, and the more likely the student is going to be successful,” May stated.

Kaplan said there is great opportunity in Texas, but changes are needed.

“Texas is going to continue to grow, based on everything we see, but the skills gap is likely to get bigger,” Kaplan said. “And if we don’t improve not only skills training, but also early childhood literacy and the education system, inequality is going to get bigger over the next 10 to 20 years. Leaders in the state know that, and we have to make a number of changes to address it.”

Other Observers Chime In

The conference was held at Brookhaven College, and the program included voices from North American industry and education leaders.

“There really is a skills gap,” said Leo Reddy, chairman of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, during one of the panel discussions. Citing a study from the Manufacturing Institute, Reddy said the institute projected that the industry will need to fill 2 million jobs over the next eight years.

“We don’t know where we’re going to find 1.5 million of those two million jobs. I don’t know where we’re going to find them,” Reddy said.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, lauded institutions like Brookhaven because they are “the lifeblood of a trained, technically-minded workforce.”

Beatty added that trade makes many people anxious, but he said North American trade has been a “boon to innovation” which has made the three countries into a $20 trillion market.

“If people have skills, are hard-working, and are entrepreneurial, then they will be better off with more trade,” Beatty said. “Each country will need to make sure education system continues to change along with economy. If education systems properly equip them, they’ll be able to find jobs.”

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