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The Skills Of North Texas Workers Need To Improve, Mayors Say

Stella M. Chávez
The mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving and North Richland Hills spoke on Thursday at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and three other North Texas cities got together on Thursday with a single purpose – to tackle what’s known as the “skills gap.” A booming economy is producing jobs, but the mayors say too few people are coming out of school with the skills to do those jobs.

Inside a ballroom at the Fort Worth Convention Center sat a panel of worried mayors. Dallas’ Mike Rawlings is one of them.

“We are seeing greater and greater gaps between the haves and have-nots that are out there, and it is an education gap,” Rawlings said. “It is a expectation gap. It’s so many gaps, and it all starts around the school house.”

A new study by JPMorgan Chase shows nearly 40,000 mid-level jobs in healthcare and technology weren’t filled from 2013 to 2014.

And some of those jobs pay pretty well – above $20 an hour.

“We are the biggest technology employer in the state of Texas – not Austin, not Houston. People cannot find great employees,” Rawlings said. “Now the word is gonna start to get out and those people are gonna stop coming and stop moving here.”

North Richland Hill Mayor Oscar Trevino said it’s important for people changing careers to use community colleges to learn new skills.

Another key, said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, is getting businesses involved in education.

“Unfortunately, not all our kids are going to college. A lot of them need to get a technical job,” Price said. “They need the opportunity or maybe they’ll go to college later. We need to work hard on that. We have to remove the barriers.”

Price says the community, which includes business, has to take ownership by volunteering and mentoring in the schools and offering kids opportunities.

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne said lower-skilled workers need to be able to move into better jobs. She mentioned a program in St. Louis where low-skilled workers shadow employees in higher-skilled jobs. The goal: to get hired where they train.

“Those are the types of things that we need to look at. Not just what we’re currently doing but also what other areas are doing,” Van Duyne said. “Because I want to compete in technology and I wanna make sure we’re not losing jobs to California.”

With an infusion of jobs at companies like Toyota, Facebook and General Motors coming to North Texas, the pressure’s even higher to close the skills gap.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.