Construction workers pour concrete for the outside of the Mays Family Center. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Construction workers pour concrete for the outside of the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Whether you work manual labor or have the corner office and a sweet salary to go with it, consider yourself lucky. Not just because you have a steady paycheck, but because jobs in the middle-skill level – like manufacturing assembly or data entry – are now harder to come by in Texas, according to a new report released yesterday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Over the last 30 years, the largest share of jobs at the center of the U.S. economy – known as “middle-skill jobs” – has been declining, according to Garrett Groves, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, who co-authored the report, “Regional Talent Pipelines: Collaborating With Industries to Build Opportunities in Texas.”

“As these jobs disappear, more Texans must obtain higher levels of education and training to acquire skills valued in the labor market,” Groves wrote. “Otherwise, they risk becoming trapped in a growing number of low-skill occupations, such as manual or service labor, that provide lower wages.”

Middle-skill jobs are those that have historically paid middle-class wages and require an associate degree, a certificate, or on-the-job training, while low-skill occupations typically do not require more than a high school diploma. High-skill occupations require a bachelor’s degree or more.

The Pipeline report surveyed all 28 regional workforce development boards in Texas to come up with recommendations to address the challenge of a declining middle class – a phenomenon the Pew Research Center has tracked for three decades. The report recommends regions create and strengthen career pathways where needed to provide a skilled workforce, and convene business leaders with education and training providers to identify skill gaps and labor market challenges.

In San Antonio, according to some local leaders, those ideas are already at work.

Former Trinity University professor Richard Butler served as founding president, CEO, and chairman of the board of directors and president of the Alamo Area Academies for nearly a decade starting in 2001. The Academies is a program that partners with the City of San Antonio, schools, colleges and employers to provide training and career opportunities to high school students.

It’s the “perfect example,” Butler said, of the kind of initiative the report recommends to improve our workforce.

“(In the past, San Antonio) couldn’t attract many higher-paying jobs because our workforce was lacking in people with the requisite skills for such jobs,” he added. “This insight was what drove former mayor Howard Peak’s Better Jobs initiative back in the late 1990s, and that, in turn, made San Antonio something of a pioneer of the workforce-development-as-economic-development model.”

Another example is SA Works, a coalition of local business leaders who bring employers and schools together to create learning opportunities, especially paid internships, for students to discover and train for new career paths.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stands on stage as he congratulates Bexar County summer interns on completing the program. Photo by Scott Ball.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stands on stage as he congratulates Bexar County summer interns on completing the program through SA Works. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We have three focus areas for SA Works, and the first is closing the skills gap in our target demand industries – manufacturing, IT, and health care,” said Romanita Matta-Barrera, executive director of the program at the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. “That means getting a better understanding from industry of what are the gaps, and what are the openings and what we can do to help them have a fully-skilled stream of employees to fill their needs.”

At a “job shadow” day last year, SA Works partnered with Junior Achievement and 59 local employers to host 1,700 area students, and this past summer, coordinated externships for 151 local career and technical education (CTE) teachers at 37 job sites.

Other goals for SA Works include working with underserved and underemployed populations and helping school districts align their CTE programs with local industry.

More recently on the labor development front, H-E-B launched a partnership with Tech Bloc and San Antonio Independent School District to build CAST Tech, the new industry-led high school for technology studies in downtown San Antonio. The high school was initially funded with grants from H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt ($2.6 million) and H-E-B. The TechBloc-4-TechEd Foundation was established with a $600,000 challenge grant from the 80/20 Foundation to encourage additional contributions and support from the tech community.

“Generally, the kind of workforce development program the (pipeline report) authors endorse is what’s needed to build the workforce of the future,” Butler says. “For the most part, our leaders in San Antonio get this, and they have moved us in that direction, but there’s still much work to be done.”

You can access the complete Dallas Fed Talent Pipeline full report here.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...