Community Development Publications
Employer-Led Approach to Workforce Development Promises to Better Align Texas Workers with In-Demand Jobs
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and laid bare tectonic shifts in the nature of work. Few of today’s middle-skill, middle-wage jobs look like those from a generation ago, when workers typically performed repetitive and procedural tasks. Today, these jobs require higher levels of critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity as well as proficiency in increasingly advanced technologies. To achieve upward mobility, workers must continually upgrade their skills or acquire new ones.
The COVID-driven economic crisis has generated much disruption and uncertainty in the workforce, especially for women and communities of color. On a national level, interest has escalated in advancing workforce equity. Moreover, discussions continue about reshoring operations and bringing jobs back to the U.S. These developments have hastened the need to strengthen and expand the skills of the U.S. workforce.
While workforce development efforts are ongoing across the country, they do not always produce the regional pools of quality talent that employers need. One approach designed to create a workforce “supply chain” is achieving success in several states and is about to take off across Texas through the Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM®) Academy, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The first cohort of Texas workforce leaders graduated from the academy in October 2020.
Talent Pipeline Management Academy Arrives
The Greater Houston Partnership (the Partnership), an economic development organization in Texas’ largest city, and statewide nonprofit Educate Texas, an initiative of the Communities Foundation of Texas, brought the TPM Academy to Texas in March 2020.
The academy came to Texas in response to strong interest from employers, educators and community stakeholders in replicating Houston’s success in upskilling and reskilling talent through regional sector partnerships using the TPM approach.
TPM refers to the application of supply-chain management principles to industry processes of attracting, developing and retaining qualified talent now and in the foreseeable future. Employers, as end users of the talent “supply chain,” take a leadership role in identifying their most critical positions and the skills needed for them. As a collaborative, they can simultaneously signal their needs to important partners like educators, workforce boards, economic developers and others. Employers are responsible for deciding the needs because the purpose of the partnership is to meet their talent requirements.
“As we realize the benefits of this approach, we believe this could also be leveraged to frame a state strategy for building the talent pipeline that fuels our state’s continued economic growth.”
— George Tang, Educate Texas
According to Jason Tyszko, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, “Regardless of how employers engage in TPM, what their efforts have in common is that employers serve as the primary source of data on their most pressing talent management challenges, how best to address them and with whom they will address them. Many sector partnerships speak for employers, but with TPM, employers have the tools and agency to speak for themselves.”
Over 30 leaders from chambers of commerce, economic development entities, community colleges and other organizations from across Texas graduated from the academy in October. They represent Abilene, Arlington, Austin, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Bend, Houston, Jasper, Katy, Lake Jackson, Lubbock, McAllen/Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Texarkana, Tyler, Waco and Wichita Falls. “As we realize the benefits of this approach, we believe this could also be leveraged to frame a state strategy for building the talent pipeline that fuels our state’s continued economic growth,” said George Tang, managing director of Educate Texas.
Through the Greater Houston Partnership’s employer-led initiative Upskill Houston, the region's key industries implemented the TPM approach in their sector partnerships. The industries include oil and gas, advanced manufacturing, construction, health care, petrochemicals, port and maritime operations, and utilities. Their common goal is to increase their competitiveness by upskilling and reskilling their current and future workforce.
Upskill Houston’s notable accomplishments to date include:
- The involvement of 130 employers in four industry sectors and with the possible expansion into three other sectors.
- The participation of 65-plus education, community and workforce organizations committed to developing Houston’s talent pipeline.
- The development and management of three career-focused digital websites—UpSkillHouston.org, UpSkillMyLife.org and PetrochemWorks.com.
- The production of 12 My Life As career videos and accompanying information, which are available to students and other learners as well as their career coaches and counselors.
Upskill Houston’s success includes building awareness of what it’s like to work in in-demand jobs in the transportation, construction, health sciences and petrochemical industries and the skills needed to do those jobs. This includes replacing outdated and vague narratives about these jobs with modern, accurate images and information.
“We need to do a better job of putting into place the mechanisms within the job market for acknowledging that skills drive the economy in addition to just credentials, which are important and are such a major part of the vetting process but can often only tell part of the story,” says Bryant Black, director of regional workforce development for the Partnership.
About the TPM Approach
At the end of 2014, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a white paper on TPM. The following year, Houston and other sites prototyped a pilot program. This was the first time that TPM strategies were used, and they informed the TPM academy’s curriculum. In 2016, the foundation established the TPM Academy.
In the Talent Pipeline Management approach, employers choose which specific problems their sector partnership will focus on. Their decision is dependent upon how they want to manage their human capital risks and address shared pain points, which include:
- Accessing a pool of qualified applicants when and where they need the workers.
- Ensuring workers get onboarded as quickly as possible.
- Retaining and developing workers in their workplace.
- Expanding workforce diversity efforts to reach the greatest number of skilled workers.
By working together to address these pain points, the employers can increase their return on investment in attracting, developing and retaining talent.
Employers—especially small businesses—join regional sector partnerships to more efficiently communicate the skills they need and align with educators, trainers and workforce organizations to help upskill and reskill talent.
Educators and trainers engage in these partnerships because they learn directly from their end users—employers—about what skills to teach and credentials to offer to make learners more competitive in the labor market. Educators and trainers can also collaborate with employers on developing or improving work-based learning opportunities like internships and apprenticeships, which can help improve employment outcomes for both employers and employees.
The TPM approach consists of six sequential strategies:
1. Organize employer collaboratives/sector partnerships:
Work collectively to aggregate their critical talent pipeline challenges—those that address a skills gap for jobs/occupations critical to employers.
2. Engage in demand planning:
Identify demand for critical occupations—projected new and replacement positions.
3. Communicate competency and credential requirements:
Communicate employers’ hiring requirements using a common language that translates competencies and credentials into skills, knowledge, abilities, training and education.
4. Analyze talent flows:
Identify employers’ most successful sources of talent and compare talent produced by suppliers to projected demand.
5. Build talent supply chains:
Building on the data collected in strategies 2–4, designate preferred educational and training providers for high-demand skills, knowledge and abilities.
6. Continuous improvement:
Design, implement and continually improve both internal and external talent pipelines within the sector.
Chart 1 illustrates TPM’s value stream, which outlines the roles of employers and “suppliers” (educators, nonprofits and others in the workforce ecosystem) and how they can add value to the talent supply chain.
Employers and educators can use TPM as a stand-alone effort or apply it to an existing sector partnership to increase meaningful employer leadership and engagement.
Chart 1: TPM’s Value Stream: From Career Awareness and Guidance to Employee Retention
The Role of Nonprofits
In TPM, nonprofits play a critical role. Often, they make the case for adopting TPM and can be instrumental in gaining buy-in from local communities and state-level entities. Many nonprofits that provide education, training or social services spend much time and energy persuading employers to use their programs.
TPM has helped aggregate employers as customers of these programs and better prepare employers and nonprofits to productively collaborate. As a result, the collaborators are better equipped to increase the employability of nonprofits’ target populations.
The Importance of Sector Partnerships
The TPM approach is a structured and data-driven model for sector partnerships, so understanding what sector partnerships are and why they exist is important.
Across Texas and the United States, employers in the manufacturing, health care, construction, information technology and other sectors are collaborating with regional workforce ecosystems, including school districts, community colleges, four-year universities, workforce boards, economic developers, chambers of commerce and other entities to help them strengthen each sector’s regional talent pipeline.
They are collaborating because their roles are interdependent: Employers need to attract, develop and retain quality talent, and regional workforce ecosystems need to help residents successfully navigate and access educational and workforce opportunities. Today and into the future, regions will increasingly be competing on the basis of the talent they are able to attract and develop.
Ideally in regional sector partnerships, the role of employers is to specify their current and projected workforce needs while the role of educators and trainers is to ensure that their curriculum meets those needs. For this to happen, each partnership needs to have the information, data and analytical ability to select its priorities, develop strategies to meet those priorities and know when their strategies are working, when they are not and how to revise their strategies to meet their common goal.
In sector partnerships, the role of organizations in the workforce ecosystem is to:
- Develop clear career paths from one occupation to another with descriptions of each occupation’s required skills, knowledge, abilities, training and education.
- Provide curricula that help learners develop these occupational requirements.
- For each set of curricula, clarify which competencies learners can expect to build and demonstrate.
- Align their work so that it is clear how each entity contributes to regional career pathways and identify where to fill in existing and projected gaps.
At the same time, a diversity of industry representatives needs to be actively engaged in each partnership to help interpret and validate occupational data and analyses and advise on curriculum to help ensure that it equips learners with competencies and credentials required by each occupation. Employers also need to provide quality jobs; invest in current and future employees’ professional and skills development (e.g., through internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing and other work-based learning opportunities); and give continuous feedback on the effectiveness and responsiveness of educators, trainers and others in the workforce ecosystem. Their feedback is essential to education and training providers’ ability to design and implement curricula that increase the employability and competitiveness of the regional workforce.
Not all sector partnerships operate like this. Traditionally, many sector partnerships tend to rely on employers for information and advice but not to drive the conversation about the partnerships’ goals and priorities. They also may not use employers’ data as their primary source of workforce data but instead use macro-level labor market information. “Rarely is data used as an instrument to isolate continuous improvement opportunities, and rarer still is using employer pain-point data,” notes Tyszko of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
A problem with this traditional approach is that employers are not informing educators and trainers about their most pressing talent needs. As a result, educators and trainers do not have the specific information they need to determine how to ensure that their curricula and programs increase their students’ employability and, at the same time, meet regional employers’ talent priorities. TPM provides an opportunity for new and existing employer collaboratives or sector partnerships to use data-driven, business-led strategies and a structured process to achieve positive return on investment for employers and improve the talent supply chain.
“As automation technologies disrupt the workplace, TPM will be an essential tool for regional employers to communicate more effectively and quickly the new skills needed in today’s innovation-based economy,” said Peter Beard, the Partnership’s senior vice president for regional workforce development. “To maintain the state’s global competitiveness, it will be important for Texas communities to use the TPM strategies to ensure they have the talent their industries require.”
TPM Successes Across the United States
The TPM network currently spans 33 states and Canada. Its sector partnerships represent employers, local and state chambers of commerce, economic development agencies and others. Tyszko emphasizes the influence and power of this network: “In TPM, we have hundreds of practitioners working across dozens of industry sectors, working in a diversity of states. This network has surfaced a wealth of knowledge and best practices that constantly shape the movement and framework.”
Sector partnerships in Houston, Colorado, Michigan and Arizona have used TPM to better prepare their regional workforces for a diversity of industries, including energy, health care, IT and manufacturing. They have found that becoming part of the TPM network and learning from peers have helped them save time, improve partnerships’ practice and challenge assumptions.
See “Case Studies Across the U.S.: Employers Use TPM Approach to Expand Pool of Quality Talent” below for highlights of the TPM network’s successes.
While anecdotal evidence suggests TPM and sector partnerships are promising, it is too early to tell if this workforce development approach is more successful than others. Sector partnerships need to do more data collection to determine the degree to which these programs are benefiting both employers and workers and improving workforce diversity, equity and inclusion.
What’s Next for TPM Academy Graduates?
Across the board, October’s inaugural TPM Academy graduates have expressed great interest in applying the TPM approach to new and existing sector partnerships, as well as continuing to serve as a peer learning network to each other. The following are highlights of their vision for the future.
The Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) has been convening sector partnerships in Dallas for five sectors: financial and professional services, construction, information technology, health care and manufacturing. Drexell Owusu, senior vice president of education and workforce at DRC, notes that TPM gives employers a structured process to identify which occupations are high-demand within an industry and how to increase the supply of regional talent for these occupations. “Everyone has different data. We all use it for different reasons,” he says. “The question is how to get our data to a place where we can all agree on one version of the truth. All of us in workforce—such as the workforce board, Dallas College [the former Dallas County Community College District] and the Commit Partnership—need to synchronize our ‘ask’ to our region’s critical industries, which is ‘what are your most critical occupations that you’re having a hard time filling?’”
DRC’s introduction of TPM into regional sector partnerships is aligned with the region’s new public–private–nonprofit partnership “Dallas Thrives.” Its goal is to double the number of young adults (adults ages 25 to 34) who earn a living wage in Dallas, which is about $50,000 in Dallas County, by the year 2040. “The DRC is helping lead Dallas Thrives because we are interested in attracting a bigger swath of industry to the table about their workforce needs and at the same time identify and address barriers to equity,” Owusu says “By working in concert as we progress along the same roadmap, we can share what is working, what is not and why, and then pivot or refine our strategies based on that feedback loop.”
William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College, sees much potential for applying the TPM approach to existing sector partnerships and other local collaboratives: “We’re already working closely with employers, the regional workforce board and others, such as through our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, CREEED, Workforce Solutions Borderplex and the Borderplex Alliance. Our community college system is critical for our region’s economic development, and one of our priorities is making sure that our graduates can earn a living wage. Using the TPM approach can help us achieve that priority. We have a sense of urgency particularly now, as there are five unemployed adults for every job available in El Paso. Our next step is to pull together a regional team of employers to determine which sector wants to adopt the TPM approach. I’m also looking forward to my continued participation in the TPM network—both in Texas and throughout the country.”
Andrew Van Chau, who is seeking to bring the TPM approach to West Houston, serves on the executive board of the Gulf Coast Economic Development District for the 13-county Houston–Galveston region and has worked for over 20 years in the energy sector. He notes that it can be difficult to get forward-looking labor market information at the granular level to better prioritize job functions for which workers should be upskilling or reskilling to prepare for projected changes in the workforce.
Employers’ perspectives are critical to such assessments. Ideally, they identify high-demand skills, knowledge and abilities so that educators and training partners can design their curriculum around those in-demand competencies. “The TPM approach provides a roadmap to ensure we’re asking the right questions to employers across our region. We’re interested in better assessing what jobseekers, incumbent workers and others need to learn so that they can increase their employability and earning potential,” he says.
“The TPM approach provides a roadmap to ensure we're asking the right questions to employers across our region. We’re interested in better assessing what jobseekers, incumbent workers and others need to learn so that they can increase their employability and earning potential.”
— Andrew Van Chau, Gulf Coast Economic Development District
In the Houston region, due to the pandemic and global price environment, the oil and gas industry has been laying off large numbers of workers while at the same time debating the reshoring of advanced manufacturing. “There is a distinct opportunity for jobseekers to connect to workforce development service providers in different ways,” says Van Chau. He says it’s useful to get insights on which of their skills and competencies are transferable to other occupations and industries, and what new skills, knowledge and abilities they may need to successfully transition.
Houston-area higher education partners like San Jacinto College, Houston Community College and Texas State Technical College offer programs to prepare jobseekers for technician roles in petrochemical and refining facilities, but the training could be adapted for the renewable energy sector. “Process operators can adapt their skills and training to ply their trade in wastewater treatments plants, for example, because they require some of the same skills in math, physics and the ability to troubleshoot equipment,” he says. “Regardless of where they are in their careers, today’s workers need to build their digital skills as they work alongside technology to increase productivity, as digital technology continues to transform every sector of our economy.”
Romanita Matta-Barrera is executive director of SA Works and executive vice president of workforce at the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. She anticipates convening employers next year to introduce the TPM approach. “We already have a broad convening of workforce agencies collaborating on a regular basis, including the community college, workforce board and other critical workforce partners,” she says. “By engaging employers, we’ll be better able to understand their hiring and retention needs.”
She plans to start conversations with employers to learn about their constraints and challenges, as well as their interest in collaborating with CTE programs and offering work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships. This market intelligence will help inform educators, trainers and others in the workforce system to improve their strategies in helping low- and moderate-income individuals get out of poverty and advance their economic mobility.
The Texarkana region is home to the Texarkana Manufacturing Regional Partnership. According to Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, its goal is to address the shortage of sustainable talent from the regional labor pool. Currently, it is focusing on company needs and familiarizing its partners with TPM so all are on the same page about TPM and how it can help refine their focus as well as identify strategies and data useful to continually improving business.
As the partnership progresses, it will continue to invite new employers, educators and trainers. Together, the partners will continue to coordinate with each other in providing needed and relevant curriculum. Malone emphasizes the promise of applying the TPM approach to the Texarkana Manufacturing Regional Partnership: “Our partnership has strong employer engagement, and we welcome more employers to get engaged. Our three colleges, Texas A&M University–Texarkana, Texarkana College and the University of Arkansas Hope–Texarkana, collaborate well. This reduces redundancies and expands opportunities.
“With TPM, we are better equipped to refine our strategies. I appreciate the value provided by the many members in the inaugural Texas cohort of TPM Academy. Through this interaction of leaders, there is a sharing of ideas and feedback, including how to identify, update and modernize curriculum. After our formal academy ends, we expect to continue our dialogue. A statewide peer learning network of TPM adopters would be of great value to all of us individually and to our communities.”
A number of sector partnerships across the U.S. are reporting promising results using Talent Pipeline Management. Further evaluation is needed to determine the degree of success and whether it extends to employees as well as employers and improves workforce diversity, equity and inclusion.
TPM has the potential to help Texas workers access the education and training they need to obtain quality jobs and better equip the state’s employers to increase their return on investment in attracting, developing and retaining quality talent. Together, these outcomes can increase economic growth, prosperity and competitiveness over the long term.
- For more information, see “Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation,” by Michael Chui, James Manyika and Mehdi Miremadi, McKinsey Quarterly, Nov. 1, 2015; “Disappearing Routine Occupations and Declining Prime-Age Labor Force Participation,” by Didem Tuzeman, Research Working Paper no. 19-03, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, November 2019; “As Machines Take on More Human Work, What’s Left for Us?” by Drew Desilver, Pew Research Center, Aug. 15, 2014; and “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation,” by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, Machines and Employment Workshop, Oxford University Engineering Sciences Department and Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Sept. 17, 2013.
- For more information, see “Digital Blindspot: How Digital Literacy Can Create a More Resilient American Workforce,” Rework America Business Network, Markle Foundation, October 2019; “Digitalization and the American workforce,” by Mark Muro, Sifan Liu, Jacob Whiton and Siddharth Kulkarni, Brookings Institution, November 2017; and “The Work Ahead: Machines, Skills, and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century,” by Edward Alden and Laura Taylor-Kale, Council on Foreign Relations, Independent Task Force Report No. 76, April 2018.
- For more information, see “Skill Shift Automation and the Future of the Workforce,” by Jacques Bughin, Eric Hazan, Susan Lund, Peter Dahlstrom, Anna Wiesinger and Amresh Subramaniam, Discussion Paper, McKinsey Global Institute, May 2018; “Career and Technical Education: Five Ways That Pay,” by Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera and Andrew R. Hanson, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University, September 2012; and “Job Market Polarization and U.S. Worker Skills: A Tale of Two Middles,” by Harry Holzer, Economic Studies at Brookings Institution, April 2015.
- For more information, see “The Benefits of a Diverse and Inclusive Recovery,” by Raphael Bostic, Annual Meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Oct. 19, 2020; “Economic Inequality Policy Forum: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Communities of Color and Policy Insights for an Equitable Economic Recovery,” by John Williams, Sept. 24, 2020; “The Economy as We Knew it Might Be Over, Fed Chairman Says,” by Anneken Tappe, CNN Business, Nov. 12, 2020; and “America’s Recovery from the 2020 ‘Shecession’: Building a Female Future of Childcare and Work,” by Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto with Trinity Grozier and Fabiola Barreto, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin and YWCA, October 2020.
- According to the United Way of Greater Dallas’ Pathways to Work initiative, workforce equity is “the state in which race, ethnicity, gender and other demographic characteristics no longer predict one’s success in the labor market. All workers are economically resilient and have equitable access to jobs that are safe, pay a living wage, offer benefits, and provide career pathways and opportunities for mobility. And, disparities in compensation and employment for all demographic groups across all occupations and sectors are eliminated.”
- Elizabeth Sobel Blum
Senior Outreach Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Our appreciation goes to the following reviewers and contributors for sharing their insights and expertise:
Peter Beard, Greater Houston Partnership
Bryant Black, Greater Houston Partnership
Niki DaSilva, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Roy Lopez, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Deborah Lyzenga, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity
Mike Malone, Texarkana Chamber of Commerce
Romanita Matta-Barrera, SA Works and San Antonio Economic Development Foundation
Jennifer Mellor, Greater Phoenix Chamber
Sharon Miller, Consumers Energy Corp.
Pia Orrenius, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Drexell Owusu, Dallas Regional Chamber
Joe Quick, Maher & Maher
Jason Saving, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
William Serrata, El Paso Community College
George Tang, Educate Texas
Kathy Thacker, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Jason Tyszko, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Andrew Van Chau, Gulf Coast Economic Development District
Kami Welch, Arvada Chamber of Commerce
- Talent Pipeline Management Academy Arrives
- About the TPM Approach
- The Role of Nonprofits
- The Importance of Sector Partnerships
- TPM Successes Across the United States
- What’s Next for TPM Academy Graduates?
- Looking Forward
- Case Studies Across the U.S.: Employers Use TPM Approach to Expand Pool of Quality Talent