Photo by Ashley Landis
Gary Job Corps, ACC programs helping to fill gaps in the state’s workforce
Among the economic issues facing Texas is a serious shortage of skilled laborers. When Susan Combs, Texas comptroller of public accounts, addressed business leaders in San Marcos earlier this year, one audience member brought that shortage home.
“Is there any priority or interest in the state for the kids who are not going to go to college?” he asked. “I’m a furniture maker, and I couldn’t find an employee in this town if my life depended on it.”
Combs agreed and focused on welding, another area facing a lack of employees.
“Right now you can’t hire a welder. We’re about 500 to 1,000 [employees] short,” Combs said.
Skilled labor includes vocational and technical trades—plumbers, pipefitters, welders, electricians, machinists—as well as nursing and technical fields such as semiconductor manufacturing.
In April, leaders in workforce training testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce to voice their concerns over the shortage of skilled workers in Texas.
“The average age of a skilled craftsman is 49; the average age for a stone mason is 69. In the next four to six years, 20 percent of the skilled laborers in the construction industry will be retiring,” said Jane Hanna, president and executive director of the Construction Education Foundation of North Texas.
“We are going to have a huge gap in qualified skilled laborers very soon. This problem has to be looked at and addressed,” Hanna said.
Brandon Whatley, welding department chairman at Austin Community College, said the demand for skilled welders increases every year.
“We’re booming, we’re through the roof as far as job placement goes,” Whatley said. “Our classes fill up extremely fast, and that’s a great indicator of what our industry is doing. We have to turn students away because they fill up so quickly.”
Much of the current job growth is in the energy industry, he said, with other high demands coming from the pharmaceutical, semiconductor and construction industries.
“In Austin, we’ve been getting calls daily, weekly from employers needing welders,” he said. “Any time there’s a demand for energy, there’s going to be a demand for welders. Energy demands, whether it be oil and gas, nuclear, ethanol, solar, wind—you name it—whatever the energy demands may be, there will always be a need for welders.”
Whatley said that because of funding issues, there are currently no plans to offer welding courses at the Hays campus.
“We would like to be there. But we want it all or nothing,” he said.
Less vocational training
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the gaps in the workforce are the result of more students are being steered away from vocational and technical schools and into traditional four-year degrees.
“These traditional blue-collar jobs, which have been the backbone of America, have been devalued,” said Tom Pauken, TWC commissioner representing employers.
Texas is facing shortfalls in several industries: health care, construction, transportation, oil and gas, and manufacturing.
A national survey conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting showed that two-thirds of businesses are experiencing a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers.
The story is the same in Texas.
The San Antonio Manufacturers Association reported earlier this year that more than 1,500 jobs in the area remain unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers.
According to the TWC, manufacturing workers earn an average of more than $70,000 annually.
“We have neglected the pipeline by pushing high school students to four-year colleges. But this one-size-fits-all approach is a big mistake,” Pauken said. “Texas needs two approaches—college-ready and career-ready.”
Skilled labor center
Created by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1965, San Marcos-based Gary Job Corps provides vocational, academic and social skills at no cost to its students. It is the largest of the 127 Job Corps centers nationwide.
Business and Community Liaison Randolph Goodman said the center is driven by labor market data.
“We rely on labor market information to help us shape our program,” he said. “A lot of skilled trades are looking for people. Artisans are aging out and creating a gap, so that’s where our training is.”
All programs are geared toward national certifications. Gary Job Corps also works with universities and colleges, including Texas State University and Austin Community College, to provide advanced training.
In the final phase of the center’s programs, students receive on-the-job-training in areas such as health care.
“We work with Seton Medical Center Hays, Central Texas Medical Center, local nursing facilities and doctors’ offices to help train nursing assistants and billing and coding professionals,” Goodman said.
Goodman estimated that 30 percent of Gary Job Corps graduates stay in the Central Texas area.
San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero said the center is helping San Marcos strengthen its middle class, a goal the City Council adopted in 2011.
“Gary Job Corps plays a tremendous role in helping us meet that goal,” Guerrero said. “They are a resource for young people to build skills which lead to great careers—especially in health care, construction and technology.”
Sense of direction
Dago Pates is a 2005 graduate of the center’s Securities and Corrections program. After graduating from high school in Iowa, Pates moved to Texas with his parents.
“I didn’t have residency status here, so college was out of the question because of the cost,” he said. “I didn’t have a sense of direction. I was 18 in a new state with no friends.”
His mother learned of Gary Job Corps and urged Pates to enroll. He completed the program in a little over a year, eventually becoming captain of his class.
The center helped Pates land his first job at Travis State Jail. After eight months, he joined the Hays County Sheriff’s office, eventually completing the Hays County Sheriff’s Academy. He is now the senior motor patrol officer for the Kyle Police Department.
“Gary Job Corps helped me find my direction,” Pates said. “It was tough and a lot of hard work but it has all been worth it.”