Executive director explained solution to workforce crises.
By Ty-Eshia Johnson
Employers are struggling to find skilled workers, the head of Bexar County Economic Development said while giving an in-depth analysis of the 10 Metrocom cities and what the future will bring to Northeast Bexar County.
Executive Director David Marquez delivered the forecast Sept. 18 at Northeast Lakeview College.
Metrocom cities are suburban municipalities surrounding Northeast Lakeview College. Each contributed representatives to an oversight committee during planning for the college.
“We’ve got some challenges in our community on the horizon for workforce, and we’re feeling already the early stages of it,” Marquez said. “It’s not too late to fix it.
“I went in as a Department of Labor apprentice for the exact same reason that we have today,” he said.
As a young adult, Marquez worked at Kelly Air Force Base as an apprentice in a maintenance repair shop.
The base could not find machinists with the skills to work in the maintenance repair shop, so it had to retrain existing employees.
The challenge is a shortage and mismatch in job skills that employers are looking for, Marquez said. Applicants and employees lack basic skills essential for future training in higher paying jobs. “These topics are timely and important,” he said. “If we don’t resolve these issues, our goal to recruit high-paying jobs here is severely unreasonable.”
The jobs are available, but people are having difficulty finding work, he said. “We need to work with those of you who provide those skills to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the employers, not only the ones that are here, but those we hope to attract,” Marquez said.
The unemployment rate in the metropolitan area is 3 to 5 percent and 3.8 percent in this city, he said.
According to the National Right to Read Foundation, 42 million U.S. adults can’t read, and over 50 million adults can’t read past a fifth-grade level. Only 13 percent of Americans are proficient in mathematics, and the U.S. ranks 25th among 30 industrialized nations in math scores.
In this city, 21 percent of Bexar County high school students failed the STAAR test, 78 percent are not college-ready and 27 percent of San Antonio residents read at the most limited literacy levels.
According to the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Adult Literacy, U.S. adults are unable to solve math problems, such as calculating tips or comparing prices in food markets.
A child not reading at a third-grade level by the end of third grade will most likely never reach adequate literacy levels. Without an adequate literacy and numeracy foundation, it becomes much more difficult for higher education institutions to provide a prepared workforce necessary for economic growth, Marquez said.
There has been an over-emphasis on four-year degree career counseling for years, but basic skill training for those entering into the workforce has yet to be provided.
Marquez said the community depends on a high-skilled and high-quality workforce. Middle skilled workers, for jobs requiring an education beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s, are in high demand.
Professional and technical certifications are also acceptable. However, employers are becoming frustrated with the shortage of skilled workers, which is their primary complaint.
By 2016, 44.8 percent of low-wage jobs will require on-the-job training, while 26.5 percent of high-wage jobs will require a bachelor’s degree.
According to the MacArthur Foundation, 65 percent of grade school children will work in jobs that do not exist yet, however, they will work in fields that do, such as health care, law enforcement, technology, business, manufacturing and product design, Marquez said.
After the presentation, Selma Mayor Tom Daly was the first to comment. “I come to a lot of these things listening to the same things all of the time,” he said. “I have two young teenagers 17 and 15, and I’m frustrated. I’m point-blank tired and frustrated.”
“The Texas curriculum is archaic. My kids can’t even tell me the five Great Lakes. My kids can’t tell me the 50 states of America. They’re 17 and 15 and they go to a great school up here, and they can’t tell me basic things … basic things that we learned when we were young,” Daly said.
“I can’t change it myself, but we can all change it, and that’s why I’m giving this message of this dark situation,” Marquez said. The community must change the way the system is set up to get better results, he said.
Jacqueline Jackson, business development specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said, “There are a lot of support systems that can help prepare, so that by the third grade, youngsters are reading on the level they’re supposed to.”
There must be opportunities for illiterate families to catch up, and there must be positive reinforcements, she said.
“I guess I’m talking about it takes a village to raise a child,” she said.