Jobs Today, Jobs Tomorrow

Is the Coastal Bend ready to meet growing employment demands?

By: Dr. Janet M. Cunningham

What a great time to live in the Coastal Bend! Jobs are plentiful, and with new industries heading to the area, employment looks promising for years to come. Graduation rates are the highest in years, and education institutions and workforce organizations are collaborating in ways never before seen. For business leaders who ponder whether the area will have the workers necessary to meet employment demands today and in the years to come, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

As the executive director of Citizens for Educational Excellence (CEE), a local nonprofit education organization, and Education to Employment Partners (the regional P-16 council), our mission is to ensure that all students are prepared for college and careers. Together, our organizations serve students, parents, educators, community members and business leaders in 11 Coastal Bend counties, and it is uplifting to see how all are responding in innovative and unique ways to ensure an educated and skilled workforce.

We’re hearing that within the next five years, 65,000 jobs will become available in the Coastal Bend. Not only are workers needed for industries related to Eagle Ford Shale, but also for an influx of new companies such as Cheniere Energy, TPCO America and voestalpine Texas. Add to these the need for workers at existing plants and for traditional jobs in the areas of health care, retail and education, and we can understand the level of concern.

While the Coastal Bend is fortunate to have an unemployment rate that is below state and national averages, there are as many as 12,000 people who are seeking work. On the Workforce Solutions website, www.workintexas.com, there are about 2,400 job openings in the Coastal Bend on any given day, but many of the jobs go unfilled because people lack the necessary education and/or training.

The majority of jobs listed on the Target Occupations List for the Coastal Bend area require certificates that can be obtained in two years or less, but getting this information out to the general public has been a challenge. Not only are many citizens unaware of the job opportunities in the area, but they often lack information about the services that can help them get on a career pathway.

One example of the region’s efforts to assist Coastal Bend residents is the newly opened Coastal Compass Education and Career Resource Center, located in La Palmera Mall in Corpus Christi. The center is a one-stop shop that provides information and assistance in learning about high-demand jobs and the education and/or training necessary for those jobs.

CEE established the center through partnerships with Coastal Bend College, Corpus Christi ISD, the Corpus Christi Literacy Council, the Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend, Del Mar College, Education to Employment Partners, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend.

The center promotes educational and employment success by 1) providing residents with the education and training information to prepare them for jobs in the area; 2) helping clients enroll in education and/or skills development programs; and 3) eliminating barriers to education and employment. Whether high school students, young people who started postsecondary but did not finish, adults without a high school diploma, veterans seeking to get back in the workforce, the unemployed or the underemployed, advisors from partnering organizations have relocated to the center to offer assistance free of charge.

Coastal Compass provides information on all types of education programs and services, including adult literacy, English as a second language, GED, dual enrollment, certification, two- and four-year college and financial aid. Additionally, the center provides assistance with job placement, career exploration, programs for veterans, career-ready certification and summer programs for youths.

Our future workforce depends on getting all populations prepared for future jobs through education and/or skills training because increasing educational attainment results in greater job productivity and improved economic well-being for the community. One major group that will benefit from the services at Coastal Compass is those citizens without a high school diploma. Currently, one in five Coastal Bend residents do not have a high school diploma, and estimates are that nearly two-thirds of future jobs will require at least a high school diploma or GED and some post-secondary education, while 45 percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Low-income individuals often are unfamiliar with educational and employment processes and face challenges in accessing services because they do not know which agencies or institutions will be able to address their needs. Low-income individuals often must overcome barriers to obtaining education or training such as transportation, childcare and health issues, which means they must deal with several agencies. Coastal Compass addresses these issues by providing advisors who can work directly with individuals to get them on the road to a better life.

The Coastal Bend has the human capital needed for the growing workforce. With coordinated services designed to meet current and future workforce needs, Coastal Compass represents a long-term investment in aggressively growing and preparing our community for the future. The efforts of this unique partnership will give the Coastal Bend an advantage when competing with other communities to attract new jobs and businesses because workers will be trained in future employment demands based on the area’s projected needs.

Coastal Compass will enhance life in the Coastal Bend by helping individuals earn a good living, supporting employers who need skilled workers and creating an economically strong community. Exciting times, indeed. Jobs today, jobs tomorrow – the Coastal Bend is ready!

Dr. Janet M. Cunningham is the executive director of Citizens for Educational Excellence and Education to Employment Partners. For more information, call 361-242-5980 (office) or 361-813-9946 (home), or email jcunningham@edexcellence.org.

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