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Strengthening the Talent Pipeline

The Greater Houston Partnership established UpSkill Houston to bring employers together and strategically expand the talent pipeline for the high-demand careers in the industry sectors considered the drivers of the region’s economy.

Investing in Talent for Tomorrow

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We have built relationships across industries; we’re getting the skilled employees we need; and we’re changing the trajectory of people’s lives. When a family can move from a $30,000-a-year job to an $80,000- or $90,000-a-year career…children have the opportunity to have a better life.


of employers can't fill vital jobs

The Challenge

The Greater Houston Partnership heard a consistent refrain from employers about the need for qualified and skilled workers in occupations that generally require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Nationally, 46% of employers report difficulty filling jobs vital to economic stability and growth.

Analysis of labor market information and data, along with benchmarking of effective practices, led the business community to the conclusion that this was a regional challenge that cuts across multiple employers and requires a collective response by the business community. To remain competitive, businesses need a strong pipeline of skilled talent.

The Solution

The Greater Houston Partnership, relying on employer leadership, established UpSkill Houston, an industry-led collaboration working with education and community stakeholders to strategically expand the talent pipeline and attract talent to high-demand careers in the industry sectors considered the drivers of the region’s economy.

The U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) approach provided a framework, context, and sequence for the work that needed to be done to build this collaboration.

A Community-Wide Effort

Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, faced a significant skills gap across seven key industries that drive its regional economy. Data indicates that nearly one million positions with long-term growth in Houston can be attained with two years of education or less.

For the region to remain globally competitive, Houston’s industries need to attract, train, and hire workers into the technical careers that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Taking on the responsibility of connecting citizens to career pathways, the Greater Houston Partnership established its UpSkill Houston initiative in mid-2014.

UpSkill Houston demonstrates what can happen when business executives commit to finding a solution. Industry and employers took ownership for the effort, inspiring leaders from education, philanthropy, government, and the nonprofit sector to join them.

Leveraging TPM™

Houston is taking a holistic approach to their workforce challenges through reinvestment in local industry, the workforce, and community partners under the guiding principles of the U.S. Chamber Foundation Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) initiative.

TPM has been an instrumental approach for engaging business leaders in UpSkill Houston’s strategic goals and provides a framework that makes it possible for any community, region, or state to achieve the results that the Houston region has seen and develop a reliable pipeline of talent across industries.

TPM is an outgrowth of the supply chain management business model where communities build regional leadership coalitions among business, education, and workforce to identify partnerships that produce sustainable talent pipelines. Employers are in the driver’s seat of these partnerships so that the resulting workforce solutions are truly driven by demand.

UpSkill Houston is an illustration of the best in teamwork and alliances, and a clear success story for employer-led, demand-driven workforce solutions.

“As UpSkill Houston launches additional industry sectors, we focus first on creating a strong collaborative of employers from the sector and on ensuring employers speak in a collective voice, before taking further steps.

For instance, in developing our healthcare sector, we convened the CEOs of the region’s healthcare systems to validate their workforce challenges and obtain their commitment to collaborate and provide the resources necessary for this work. TPM strategies helped us describe key steps and activities the effort will require.”

Peter Beard, Senior Vice President
Regional Workforce Development, Greater Houston Partnership

The Critical Partnerships

The large size of the region, multiple school districts (50+), community college systems (9), and community organizations (40+) made this collaborative effort a challenge. The partnerships made it possible.

The Greater Houston Partnership started with its member businesses and identified key allies that were confronting and seeking to address similar workforce challenges. They looked to business leadership tables (like trade associations) that were already having the workforce conversation.

East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA) and its PetroChemWorks steering team (six plant managers and five industrial construction executives) provide leadership in building the talent pipeline for the petrochemical manufacturing employers as well as the industrial construction employers.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) provide leadership with commercial and industrial construction contractors. They partner with building owners and developers to create a more supportive ecosystem to support the development of the craft workforce.

Regional health systems are coming together to collectively address their workforce challenges, like the need for skilled medical assistants. The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world with 56 partner institutions and more than ten million patient visits a year. Some of the region’s leading health systems include Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann, Texas Children’s, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and HCA and have a broad regional footprint.

ExxonMobil provided initial support to create the Community College Petrochemical Initiative (CCPI) to help align the region’s nine community college systems in supporting the education and training of students for petrochemical manufacturing careers. CCPI focuses on creating clearer pathways for education and training among the colleges, and it ensures improved course curriculum and teaching across the colleges.

UpSkill Houston and CCPI work together to sponsor a regional faculty summit to engage the teaching faculty in the petrochemical manufacturing and industrial crafts disciplines with business executives as well as front-line supervisors and the human resources and training staff. This approach has ensured the teaching faculty hear directly from industry and has deepened industry’s engagement with the community colleges.

United Way of Greater Houston THRIVE network and a workforce development working group have organized community-based organizations as partners in workforce development. The THRIVE network is a collaboration of more than 20 partners—non-profits from across multiple sectors—that provide comprehensive services to support hardworking, lower-income families in their own efforts to achieve financial stability. Its Workforce Connector program is designed to help families access services from the public workforce system while receiving wraparound supports from United Way’s THRIVE partners.

Making a Difference Across Industries

Business leaders in Houston are on the same page about what is important: building strong, sustainable pipelines of talent and supporting the growth of the region’s economy.

As a result, they are changing perceptions, growing industries, and changing lives. showcases the various middle-skill career paths available in the booming Houston region and helps improve the perceptions about these career options, raising awareness for students and their families about the salaries, skills, and opportunities available to them in their own community.

Industry Growth and Success

To date, UpSkill Houston has engaged more than 75 employers and business leaders to champion and lead its work.

Petrochemical Manufacturing

Using demand surveys, employers can now clearly communicate need and make accurate projections about workforce demand at the plants. With support from JPMorgan Chase, the industry has developed a career exploration platform known as that can help individuals and returning service members explore potential careers in the industry and understand the competencies and credentials that are required.

The petrochemical manufacturing industry has been able to raise over $1 million to support scholarships for students enrolled in relevant community college programs and continues to work on aligning these incentives to improve the quality of its talent pipelines.

Petrochemical enrollments in Houston’s community college systems have increased over the last five years—more than doubling from 8,300 to more than 17,000 and increasing the rate of course completions.

Industrial Crafts, like Construction

Through an important competency mapping process, the industry has been able to establish a career progression for the industrial crafts, including the NCCER credential and a plan to move to performance verification of the skill.

Because craft training is based on work and learn, UpSkill Houston worked on various collaborations with community-organizations, public workforce systems and employers to attract and screen potential employees who can be successful in the roles. One company developed a Women in Construction program to provide on-the-job training for three months for 20 women to become pipefitter helpers. This program graduated 80 percent of the women enrolled, and these graduates are still in the construction field today.

Another commercial construction company replicated this Women in Construction program, and a commercial electrical contractor has partnered with a local school district to recruit 50 juniors into a pre-apprenticeship training program.

NextOp and Veterans

NextOp is an organization that provides a new pipeline for veterans and returning service members to enter Houston’s regional economy. It works on military bases to attract service members to Houston, provides training and pathways into the regional economy, provides mentors to the service members as they are finding employment, and conducts outreach to employers to facilitate placement. In 3 years, it has helped more than 1,000 service members obtain employment.

UpSkill Houston also seeks to increase the number of area citizens trained for rewarding careers in healthcare, utilities, oil and gas, advanced manufacturing, and port, maritime, and logistics. One of the key barriers is the awareness challenge for careers and occupations that require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year college degree. UpSkill Houston works to raise awareness and create accurate perceptions about technical careers among middle and high school students and parents by partnering with four school districts with more than 150,000 7th to 12th graders.

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