Building the school to career pipeline

By Jennifer Branch

Talent. It is the top need of employers across the country. Texas and Waco are no exceptions, especially with historically low unemployment rates.

As the “baby boomer” generation continues to age and exit the workforce, employers are becoming more and more desperate for adequately trained workers. The growth of a competitive economy and rapid advances in technology have changed the face of the job market and we as a community must answer.

The Heart of Texas P-20 Council is a school-to-work initiative that builds pathways from education to workplace to provide a skilled workforce. Our mission is to create collaborative partnerships that connect students to both college and career readiness. The council has historically had a strong presence of collaboration from educators, but the missing link remained – industry feedback.

My work with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce has been incredible. I have the pleasure of sitting down face-to-face with local employers throughout McLennan County and learning more about their businesses and the dreams and passions that led them to their line of work. I am often invited to celebrate successes, but I am also challenged with partnering with businesses to overcome issues they are facing. Ninety-five percent of the time, the greatest challenge our local businesses face is recruiting and maintaining Talent and Workforce. They often face growth restraints due to the lack of qualified workers. Markets are hot, products and services are in demand, but businesses simply cannot accommodate all requests because they do not have capacity. If they had the qualified, trained employees they need, they could more closely meet the demands.

The feedback from my visits is aggregated and collectively shared with educators, curriculum planners and community leaders. Allowing the first-hand transfer of information about the specific skills and needs the employers are looking for has helped the P-20 Council’s overall local mission and commitment as well as supported the state’s 60×30 strategic plan for preparing students for the workforce. The newly launched Talent Portal www.WacoTXJobs.com and the ongoing, strategic relationship with the US Army’s Fort Hood Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program are other examples of workforce initiatives I focus on as well as continuing to support our local industry and community partners.

One thing that I have seen that is most encouraging and fascinates other economic developers is the collaborations within our community. Waco has brought to the table City and County officials, regional early-ed public and private schools, leaders from TSTC, Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas Tech University at Waco, Tarleton State University – Waco, Workforce Development Boards and other community and industry leaders, literally all focused on the same end goal.

While change certainly is underway in our community to develop a robust talent pipeline for employers and to give job seekers more and clearer options and career pathways, we must continue to collaborate and push for continued change. A healthy economy and job market lead to healthy communities, which lead to healthy businesses and healthy families. The bottom line is that there is no growth without talent. Partnerships that nurture, grow and diversify the talent pipeline are vital and partners in McLennan County should be proud of the work started.

Jennifer Branch serves as the Director of Existing Industries and Workforce Development on the Economic Development Team at the Greater Waco Chamber. She is also on the Workforce Development Board as the Co-Chair for the Texas Economic Development Council. She relocated from Dallas to Waco 10 years ago and is settled in China Spring with her two daughters. In her “free” time she enjoys all things outdoors, especially on the lake or one of the rivers flowing through our city center. Along with being an ambassador for our community, she is also an active advocate for many non-profits for which she has a passion.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

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