Everyone is noticing the economy these days. Even the Houston Chronicle has taken note of the growth of the area’s highly-skilled labor force in spite of the economic downturn fueled by losses in the oil industry. “Houston’s economy may be slowing, and white collar workers in the energy industry are suffering, but the demand for blue-collar worker shows no sign of declining,” notes Chris Tomlinson in his commentary in the Business section of the city’s newspaper on Sunday, June 19, 2016.
This shift in the economy is at the forefront of the Economic Alliance Port Region. The Alliance, along with additional founding partners Neighborhood Centers and UpSkill Houston, has combined forces to charter Dream It. Do It. Southeast Texas. The mission of this foundation is to facilitate communication and action to build a skilled workforce in the southeast Texas Region. This foundation strives to be the regional answer to the nation-wide problem of a skilled workforce shortage by engaging students at key points in their career decision making process.
How does Dream It. Do It. accomplish this task? Working in collaborative partnerships with the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA), UpSkill Houston, BASF, and INEOS, this non-profit organization takes its show on the road to help inform students, parents, teachers, and administrators on the type of high-need, high-wage opportunities available in the petrochemical, maritime, logistics and distribution, and construction industries located in the nine-county Gulf Coast area stretching from Jefferson to Matagorda counties. This year alone, Dream It. Do It. has reached more than 2,700 students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and others through presentations to community centers, educational convocations, career fairs, task force meetings, teacher staff development sessions, conference presentations, and classroom presentations.
“Our biggest job,” notes Project Manager Denise Smesny, “is to get the word out on various careers about which students and parents may not even be aware.” Presentations inform listeners about high-need, high-wage, highly-trained career opportunities in such fields as Process Technology, Pipe Fitting, Electrical Technology, Instrument and Analyzer Technology, Millwright, Crane Operations, and Welding Technology in industrial settings. In addition, presentations stress the type of education and certifications needed for these careers as well as the different training locations in the Gulf Coast area. The highlight of the presentation is that men and women currently working in the petrochemical industry often speak to the audience letting them know the advantages of working in local petrochemical plants and related industries. Audience members seem to enjoy the one-on-one interaction with people from the “real world” of the local area workforce.
One recent presentation opportunity was a 6-day stint with 9th grade students enrolled in Alief ISD’s Career and Technical Education Early College High School in conjunction with Houston Community College. Students learned about high-need, high-wage, highly skilled career opportunities in the Gulf Coast area as well as area economic data showing trending occupations in the manufacturing sector. Students also experienced EHCMA’s PetrochemWorks.com, and participated in a “Manufacturing Challenge” to build a structure that could prevent an egg from cracking when dropped from waist height. After several rounds of competition, the winning team was awarded bragging rights as well as performing employability skills including teamwork, critical thinking, flexibility, and problem solving.
A new and exciting website is now online to help students, the underemployed, the unemployed, and veterans learn more about local petrochemical careers that fit their interests. PetrochemWorks.com is sponsored by EHCMA, JPMorgan Chase, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). The website’s “Match Me” activity aligns user’s skills, interests, and personalities with real life job opportunities in the petrochemical industry. Included on the website are community college programs offering the necessary certifications and training as well as companies that are hiring these employees for high-paying petrochemical career opportunities. In addition, there is information available on the website that shows users how to obtain the education necessary to progress to higher paying, more demanding careers within the industry.
Dream It. Do It. has become the grassroots authority on influencing the perception of manufacturing careers by leveraging strategic partnerships to attract and recruit a qualified manufacturing workforce. The Chronicle’s Chris Tomlinson notes in his commentary that, “Parents and young people also need to recognize that learning a trade can reap greater career benefits than a four-year degree.” Dream It. Do It. is the organization that can help get the word out to students, parents, the underemployed, the unemployed, and veterans that the trades are open and business is booming.
Tomlinson, C. (2016, June 19). It will take a good bit of work to end the skilled labor shortage.
The Houston Chronicle, Business, pp. B1-B4.