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July 15, 2022
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Increasing Work-Based Learning Opportunities in the Coastal Bend
Column by State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, July 2022

Texas employers continue to report challenges in hiring skilled employees in Texas to fill middle-skill jobs in high-needs industries that require associate degrees, postsecondary certificates, or industry certifications. However, the Legislature has taken action giving tools to schools, working with colleges and industry. The tools provide students the opportunity for a seamless transition from high school to college or to a program that teaches the skills for a high demand occupation. By working together, we now have policies and programs in place to provide students data and information about different pathways and opportunities for these jobs. This will allow them to make a decision to put more money in their pocket, improve their quality of life, and have a positive impact on our economy.

Last spring, I co-sponsored House Bill 3767 which permanently established the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, a collaboration of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) originally formed in 2016. The Tri-Agency Initiative has identified work-based learning as a strategy for supporting efficient and flexible pathways to earning a high-value credential linked to high-wage, in-demand jobs.

As the Tri-Agency Initiative works to enhance work-based learning throughout the state, many school districts have been offering work-based learning opportunities. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) is one of the three College and Career Readiness School Models (CCRSM) implemented in Texas. This work-based learning program blends high school and college coursework to help historically underserved and at-risk students simultaneously gain work-based experience in high-demand fields, develop technical skills, earn dual college credit, and pursue career paths to meet regional and local workforce needs. With the passage of House Bill 3 in the 2019 session, districts receive incentive funding for every student enrolled in a P-TECH program. As a result, the number of P-TECH programs has increased significantly from 64 campuses in 2019 to over 230 as of last month.

Students who graduate from P-TECH programs are more likely to complete an industry certificate or two-year postsecondary credential and enter the workforce with in-demand skills that make them competitive candidates in their local labor market. Take the P-TECH Academy at Moody High School in Corpus Christi for example. In a partnership with Del Mar College, Moody High School currently offers industry certifications in construction, welding, or health science, which were identified as high-growth industries in our state and a critical part of the workforce in the Coastal Bend region. Del Mar College is currently partnering with another six school districts in the Coastal Bend region and is in current discussion with five more school districts. Meanwhile, Coastal Bend College is partnering with Brooks County ISD to provide students at Falfurrias High School's P-TECH Academy an opportunity to earn an associate's degree and welding professional certification.

As Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, my colleagues and I are expecting important discussions in the 88th Legislative Session on future investments to improve education and workforce alignment. We will discuss how we can invest in initiatives that will lead to a better connection between student’s academic pathways and the current and future workforce needs. It is imperative that the Legislature continues to support the expansion of work-based learning programs like P-TECH. The pandemic has changed our economy and we must adjust the education and training to provide the skilled labor that is in high demand.