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Three ways to bridge Houston's skills gap

This piece appeared in the June 7 print edition of the Houston Business Journal. The article was written by Altierus Campus Director Syed Kazmi.

There has never been a better time to live and work in Houston. As the second-most prosperous – and fifth fastest-growing – city in the United States, more people each year are experiencing the abundant lifestyle and economic opportunities Houston provides. But one issue is keeping the city from reaching its full potential: the skills gap.

By next year, 65 percent of all U.S. jobs are expected to require education beyond high school. In Houston, 1.4 million jobs are "middle-skill": positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. Yet Houston employers in key industries like manufacturing, trades and healthcare are seeing shortages in the workforce they need to fill these positions.

To ensure employers have sufficient access to skilled labor, industry leaders and educators need to come together to develop high-quality programs that get workers into the field quickly, following these three steps:

Validate CTE as a pathway to fulfilling, middle-class careers

Long stigmatized as a second-tier educational option, career and technical education (CTE) has become more than the bygone high school shop class or vocational school teaching blue-collar skills.

CTE has a role to play in the labor market, with the ability to turn out job-ready students in fields essential to the local economy, like nursing, information technology and skilled trades, like HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). In addition, career education is one of the rare issues that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree should be a legislative priority. In Houston and beyond, we must look for ways to emphasize the entrepreneurship and professional skills that both unlock success in CTE fields and foster pride among the students who embrace them.

Foster partnerships between educators and businesses

As new technologies reshape the economy, leaders in business and higher education must be in constant dialogue about what skills students need to succeed – for the jobs of the present and for those of the future. By partnering with educators, employers can offer input on CTE program design to ensure students are prepared to enter the workforce when they graduate, while also shaping hands-on learning experiences, or "externships," where students develop skills in a work setting.

Local employers contribute in these ways to Altierus Career College's Program Advisory Committee and often turn to us for their hiring needs, knowing graduates are well-prepared for their respective fields.

Use data to chart our course

CTE has been ignored in part due to the lack of data on its long-term efficacy, making it harder to communicate CTE's value proposition to students, educators and employers. Along with these employer/educator partnerships, it's paramount that we track the long-term results of these programs and optimize delivery methods and teaching approaches based on what's working and what's not.

The time is now for bold action to ensure Houstonians have the skills to match the needs of the 21st century economy. It will be through this kind of collaboration that solutions to Houston's skills gaps are realized.

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