Alamo Aerospace Academy students. Courtesy of Alamo Colleges.
Alamo Aerospace Academy students. Courtesy of Alamo Colleges.

The health care, biosciences, information technology (IT), cybersecurity, and advanced transportation manufacturing industries are growing fast in San Antonio – so fast that its workforce can’t keep up. An SA2020 task force released a report Thursday that identifies these gaps and makes recommendations for how schools, industry leaders, and the public sector can help close them.

SA2020, a nonprofit community visioning organization, formed the Talent Pipeline Task Force in early 2014 to define the gap between target industry jobs and those available to fill the positions. The task force, which met monthly until May, confirmed what industry leaders had observed – that college or certification attainment are not increasing at a rate high enough to fill the jobs.

With the help of local companies and educational organizations, SA2020 hopes to bridge that education gap by connecting people with more education services. The task force found that by focusing on providing people with opportunities to fill the “middle-skill gaps” in the workforce, they could provide more people with jobs in these growing fields. Most jobs that fall under this category require some sort of certification or associate’s degree – more than a high school diploma but less education than a bachelor’s.

Click here to download the report.

From the SA2020 Talent Pipeline Task Force report.
From the SA2020 Talent Pipeline Task Force report.

The recommendations presented by the task force included recommendations community colleges – including some specifically for Alamo Academies that has already established workforce development programs.  Dual-credit opportunities for students to earn career and college credits in high school will be essential to fast-track students towards their fields of interest. The report calls for 1,000 “new marketable IT certificates in area high schools in 2015.” Eventually, the task force would like to see an option for a trade certificate in every high school.

The task force recommended that San Antonio Works – a group of local business leaders whose goal is to improve the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-driven (STEM) workforce – step in to influence degree planning, explore the development of at least one career high school, and promote the use of teachers with industry experience.

In an effort to ensure adults continue their education and career pathways, Workforce Solutions Alamo, a regional board that brings people and jobs together, will help to expand the “just-in-time” model, to develop accelerated learning programs that aligns the workforce with employers. The task force also recommends that colleges provide more services for adult learners.

On an industry level, groups should be formed to serve as intermediaries between industry and education, states the report. At the city and county level, the task force asks that those programs with a proven track record continue to receive funding, as well as explore The Graduate! Network which provides adults with career advising.

Click image to download the report.
Click image to download the report.

The task force included members from the San Antonio Chamber of CommerceToyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, the City’s Economic Development Department,  BioMed SARackspace, H-E-B, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and more.

The JPMorgan Chase Foundation provided $35,299 and the Lumina Foundation granted $200,000 to conduct the study.

SA2020 hosted an event at Rackspace on Thursday morning to present the task force results. Rackspace is a managed cloud company that provides thousands of San Antonians with jobs in the tech industry.

In 2013, for every one health care and bioscience graduate, there were two job openings, and for every one IT graduate, there were ten job openings.

The study was underway during the time the House Bill 5 was approved by the Texas Legislature, which requires eighth grade students to choose career-driven courses and expands options for students to receive dual-credit in high school.

“The task force said these things that are happening need to be fostered and need to be sustained and need to be nurtured,” said SA2020 interim President and CEO Molly Cox.

Molly Cox poses for a photo. Photo by Scott Ball.
SA2020 interim President and CEO Molly Cox at a previous event. File photo by Scott Ball.

Cox said the report outlines two target populations for educational attainment. The first are the 222,000 San Antonians who started to go to college or get a professional certificate, but then stopped for various reasons, and the second group are those 16-24 year olds unconnected to education or well-paying jobs.

“There is an opportunity to grow their work skills, fill real significant gaps, and change the trajectory of their lives and our economic life here in San Antonio,” Cox said.

She said although San Antonio has experienced an increase in high school graduation rates, the city has not experienced the same increase for college attainment. Between now at 2030, a large portion of skilled manufacturing workers will retire, and San Antonio must ensure those positions are filled.

“There is an issue with us outpacing our population for jobs,” she said.

Mayor Ivy Taylor said San Antonio must design a range of programs that provide residents with opportunities to develop their education and training skills that will provide them with more job opportunities.

Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks to the audience at Rackspace on Thursday. Photo by Joan Vinson.
Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks to the audience at Rackspace on Thursday. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Mayor Taylor spoke of programs such as Project QUEST, which helps San Antonians overcome barriers such as minimal education and insufficient job skills, and Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, which provides students with IT certificates. She said programs such as these can help create initial job opportunities as well as upscale those already in the workforce.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks with Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4) after the event. Photo by Joan Vinson.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks with Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4) after the event. Photo by Joan Vinson.

“What companies care about most is access to a talented, well trained workforce and developing local talent to meet that demand means that the benefits of economic growth here can be shared more widely throughout our economy,” she said. “Connecting more San Antonians to prosperity is my number one priority as mayor.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said there is nothing more important than talent development.

“That means growing it or attracting it,” he said. “That means changing lifestyles in San Antonio.”

Judge Wolff said San Antonio needs to change its view of education to recognize credentials at all levels of postsecondary education.

“The idea that everybody has to get a four-year college degree is wrong,” he said. “Not everyone is ready for that, not everyone wants that, and nor does everybody need that.”

*Featured/top image: An Alamo Aerospace Academy student hard at work. Courtesy of Alamo Colleges.

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Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....