How North Texas is Future-Proofing Its Tech Workforce

December 12, 2019 by Midlothian Economic Development

how-north-texas-is-future-proofing-its-tech-workforce

Social disruption. Digital landscapes. Evolving ecosystems. Innovation economy. Cybersecurity. Big data analytics. Cloud computing. Internet of Things. Artificial intelligence.

These words were virtually unheard of in the not-so-distant past. But now, they are just some of the tech-centric terminology that defines a new era; a global workplace changing by the hour at the speed of technology.

This unprecedented environment presents challenges to companies on a mission to run operations efficiently, profitably, and intelligently across myriad industries.

An important component of that picture is "new collar jobs," a term coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to describe tech-based jobs, such as cloud-computing technicians, database managers, cybersecurity, user interface designers, and other IT roles, that are critical in today's economy but don't require a four-year college degree or higher.

While there are conflicting opinions about how much of a skills gap exists for this type of tech talent, one thing is certain: Technology permeates nearly every business across every sector, and the need for talent with advanced technical skills is only increasing.

Wanted: Tech Talent

In North Texas, the arrival of new headquarters operations, data centers, distribution operations, manufacturing facilities, and more are boosting the Lone Star economy to greater heights.

While this is good news for the Texas business climate, the influx of new and expanding companies is ramping up competition for lucrative tech talent.

Another challenge lies in the mismatch between employment needs and existing post-secondary degrees and certifications.

For example, according to the 2019 Dallas County Promise Talent Report, 20 of the most recruited DFW middle skill occupations fall within six technical categories:

  • Precision Production 
  • Mechanic and Repair 
  • Construction 
  • Engineering 
  • Computer Sciences 
  • Health Professions

However, the report’s data also shows a divide between regional employer needs and the area credentials to meet those job needs.

According to the report, about 65 percent of jobs require some type of post-secondary credential, such as a bachelor's degree, associate degree or industry-specific certification — but only 37 percent of the local Dallas County population possesses such credential.

Insights such as this are spurring state and local leaders to rethink pathways to higher education and the best ways to build a pipeline of tech talent. 

At the state level, Texas is proactively cultivating tomorrow’s technical workforce through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX plan. State government and educational leaders are on a mission to ensure that 60 percent of Texas' 25- to 34-year-old workforce achieves a postsecondary education credential by 2030. 

This would ideally mean that at least 550,000 students in that year will complete a certificate, associate, bachelor’s, or master’s from an institution of higher education in Texas, according to the 60x30TX Strategic Plan for Higher Education.

By connecting with educational and business partners across the state, Texas is making strides to ensure that the state’s expansive workforce will continue to support the Texas economy, which is 15th in the world when ranked as a country.

Amazon Web Services Assists in Curriculum Development

One of the most recent strategies undertaken through the 60x30TX initiative was unveiled in September 2019 and addresses the increasing need for cloud computing skills.

To help create homegrown talent, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is partnering with community colleges across Texas to create a new associate of applied science degree that prepares students for careers in cloud computing.

As part of the collaboration, academic institutions will leverage AWS Educate, Amazon’s global initiative to support cloud learning with students or faculty, to build computer and data-related skills for K-12 curriculum as well as associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs. The partnership will also work with employers throughout Texas who have a growing need for tech workers with cloud computing skills.

In North Texas, AWS will work with the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) to implement a Cloud IT curriculum and certification program as early as spring 2020.

DCCCD is one of 22 community colleges that will offer the two-year degree along with three Texas universities — Jarvis Christian College, Prairie View A&M University, and St. Philip's College. AWS will help Dallas, Irving, and Houston independent school districts teach computer and data-related skills to younger students, as well.

This innovative partnership is indicative of novel approaches being taken to meet the job needs of Texas companies.

Specifically, AWS helped design the curriculum to ensure that students' skills match those listed in job posts.

The career outlook is a bright one for students who graduate with a cloud computing degree. They could fill software engineer, software architect, or data engineer positions for AWS or another company, and could potentially earn salaries ranging from $60,000 to upwards of six figures.

TSTC Transitions to Performance-Based Learning

Elsewhere in North Texas, the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) campus in Red Oak is working directly with area employers through customized training and is in the process of transitioning to a performance-based education (PBE) model to create flexible learning opportunities for students.

The North Texas campus is one of 10 TSTC campuses across Texas that offer a wealth of technical programs ranging from computer science, cybersecurity, and health information technology to robotics technology, electrical powers and controls, precision machining technology, industrial systems – electrical specialization, and much more.

TSTC is among the many educational institutions helping to ensure that Texas, and North Texas, continues to deliver qualified talent to employers.

Marcus Balch, provost of the North Texas campus of TSTC, said low unemployment and underemployment rates are making recruitment efforts challenging for area companies.

“We continue to have more and more employers knocking on our door than we have students for,” explained Balch.

Companies including Oncor, Crown Lift Trucks, Terex Utilities, SEW, Bimbo Bakeries, Call Box, Nucor Steel, and Black & Veatch are among those who have come to speak with TSTC students in North Texas about opportunities with their companies.

To help students earn certificates and degrees more quickly, TSTC is unveiling performance-based education in fall of 2020 for two of its most sought-after programs: Heating and Air Conditioning Technology and Cybersecurity. Additional programs are expected to be added over time.

PBE will essentially fuse online learning with traditional classroom learning to let students learn in a timeframe that best suits their personal schedules and their individual experience levels.

Through class lectures, online instruction, and expanded lab hours, students will be able to work at their own pace, accelerating through class skills accordingly.

This flexible learning option is ideal for students who are just out of high school as well as non-traditional students who are upskilling for workplace advancement opportunities.

Above all, TSTC’s new spin on competency-based education is designed to get students prepared more quickly for area employers seeking to fill positions.

“They need these people yesterday,” said Balch. 

Shaping the future

The above examples offer just a small glimpse of how educational, business, and state and city leaders are collaborating to ensure a pipeline of technical talent for current and future business needs in North Texas and beyond.

Digital skills are essential across every industry, from computer technology and healthcare to manufacturing and machining, and educational institutions must continue to find fresh ways to keep pace with an ever-changing global marketplace.

Undoubtedly, the ability to evolve, adapt, and innovate – professionally, educationally, and personally – will serve as a fundamental pillar for a progressive tomorrow.

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Preparing for Tomorrow

North Texas is graduating students in high-tech certificate, associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs including computer science, cybersecurity, database management, networking technology, information technology, electronics technology, engineering, data science, and much more. These students will ensure that the Dallas-Fort Worth metro continues to remain a hotspot for companies requiring technical talent. Here are some of the schools in DFW offering high-tech programs critical to the area’s future economic success and prosperity:

  • Texas State Technical College
  • Dallas County Community College District 
  • University of North Texas
  • North Central Texas College
  • Tarrant County College
  • Navarro College
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas at Arlington
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Dallas Baptist University

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