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Statesman Article Highlights Need for Skilled Trades

Workforce chairman: Manufacturing, skilled trades key to Texas economy

By Laylan CopelinAMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 8:41 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012

[This article can be found at: http://www.statesman.com/business/workforce-chairman-manufacturing-skilled-trades-key-to-texas-2128472.html%5D

Manufacturing is the key to Texas’ economic future, but a shortage of skilled workers demands a new emphasis on skilled trades in public schools, several witnesses told state lawmakers Thursday.

“We have steadily de-emphasized vocational and technical training, preferring to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach, which says that everyone should attend a four-year university,” said Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission.

Although Texas lost 250,000 manufacturing jobs over the past decade, manufacturing firms are complaining of a shortage of skilled workers, Pauken told the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development.

The hardest jobs to fill in the U.S. are for skilled trades, Pauken said, citing the 2011 Manpower Group report. He said teaching skilled trades, such as welding, pipefitting and electrical work, in public schools could affect the dropout rate by giving students a chance to train for a good-paying job.

Pauken’s testimony came as the House committee is studying how well Texas has promoted development in its six industry clusters and whether other industries should get special attention.

Those clusters are aerospace and defense; advanced technologies and manufacturing; biotechnology and life sciences; energy; information and computer technology; and petroleum refining and chemical products.

Pauken said Texas has been turning to community colleges to train workers when an employer moves to the state.

“We need to do more than fill in the gaps on an ad hoc basis,” Pauken said. “We must have a long-term plan that begins educating young Texans in skilled trades long before we get a call from an employer telling us that the local labor market isn’t meeting its needs.”

Pauken said public schools should offer more courses in skilled trades and create separate performance tests — one for students who plan to attend college and one for students in skilled trades.

Several representatives of the state’s manufacturing sector echoed Pauken’s testimony.

On another topic, Austin lawyer Pike Powers, an economic development expert, warned that portions of Texas outside the large metro areas are getting left behind.

Powers said the state should ensure that resources, such as high-speed computers at the University of Texas, are shared. He noted that the Texas Advanced Computing Center has three times the capacity of the state’s other public universities combined.

“We’ve got to pay attention to the rest of Texas,” Powers said.

Powers also provided a “Texas Performance Scorecard” by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter, an expert in industry clusters.

It showed that through 2009, Texas was good at job creation and new business formation but needs improvement in productivity and innovation.

Powers said innovation requires quantity, quality and velocity — the ability to transform innovation into new products and services quickly.

Texas is good at the first two, but it’s “very bad” at creating products and services quickly from its innovations, he said.

“That is a major reason why our global competitors seem very close in the rearview mirror,” Powers said.

He suggested that the state should emphasize industry clusters by promoting a dozen regional research parks as public-private partnerships.

He said choosing a cluster is “not central planning, socialism or ‘picking winners.'”

“A cluster is already a proven winner,” Powers said. “A cluster initiative is about doing what you would have done anyway, but being able to achieve it five to 10 times faster.”

lcopelin@statesman.com; 445-3617

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