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Chamber luncheon focuses on preparing students for jobs

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 by Vicky Garza

Austin leads the nation in job-creation growth, and while this is good news, it puts pressure on the city and employers who are having a hard time filling some of those positions.

Paul D’Arcy, senior vice president at Indeed, delivered the keynote at the Austin Chamber’s State of Education luncheon on Tuesday. He told the crowd that it is important to have the people to fill these positions, because the location of talent increasingly determines the location of jobs.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of companies looking to expand in Austin, and the city has become a key destination for talent, with people from all over the world searching for jobs here. The top states whose residents are job-searching in Austin are California, Florida and New York, and the top countries are India, Canada and the United Kingdom.

D’Arcy, who examines job and labor trends, said that Austin’s labor market is splitting into two and losing its middle-wage jobs. The positions that employers are unable to fill fast enough are high-skilled, high-wage jobs (such as managers, software engineers and nurses) and low-skilled, low-wage jobs (such as cooks, customer service advisers and servers).

“As educators, we have an opportunity to prepare many of today’s Austin residents for the great jobs that exist here,” said D’Arcy.

The Austin Chamber and the state of Texas each have initiatives to help prepare Texas residents to fill that skill gap.

The Austin Chamber brought together business leaders and associations, school districts and institutes of higher education to form the Central Texas Business and Education Partnership, said Shaun Cranston, the chamber’s 2015 education chair and senior vice president at Brookfield Residential.

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been,” said Cranston, quoting former NHL player Wayne Gretzky. Cranston said he is most concerned about college and career readiness and reiterated the importance of creating the skill force for the jobs being designed.

To that end, the partnership came up with a pact it named the “DTC70,” which had every member pledge to boost the region’s direct-to-college enrollment rate to 70 percent by the class of 2016.

Cranston also shared some ideas for how the business community can help students: speak to them about your career, become a mentor, offer paid internships and become involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education efforts.

“We have an obligation as a business community to help train the students for these jobs,” said Cranston. “But more importantly, we have a moral obligation to help students be successful and have a chance to live the American dream.”

Statewide, there is a new initiative called the “60x30TX” plan, said Raymund Paredes, the Texas commissioner of higher education. The goal is to have 60 percent of Texans between the ages of 25 and 34 have some kind of college degree or post-secondary certification by the year 2030.

The plan builds on the achievements of the “Closing the Gaps” initiative, which endeavored to close gaps in participation, success, excellence and research in higher education in Texas by 2015. Although several of that plan’s objectives are unlikely to be met, the program is considered an overall success.

The four goals for the “60x30TX” plan are to close gaps in attainment, completion, marketable skills and student debt. Read more about the plan here.

Following the speakers, awards for excellence were given to individual schools, school districts, administrators, students and volunteers.

Ron Reed, executive producer of SXSWedu, closed out the luncheon. He announced that next year’s SXSWedu will take place March 7-10 at the Austin Convention Center and that over 8,000 people involved in education are expected to attend.

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