A recent study conducted for the Austin Area Research Organization by the LBJ School's Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources found that many jobs requiring less than a bachelor’s degree and offering attractive wages and good career prospects are available in a number of growth sectors in Central Texas. These jobs would provide excellent opportunities for large numbers of individuals who have some college but currently lack a degree or certificate.
More than 200,000 Austin-area residents over the age of 25 have some college experience but lack a degree or certificate to qualify for current and projected career pathways. Equipped with sub-baccalaureate credentials, these individuals can expect better career opportunities and lifetime earnings. Central Texas can benefit from returns such as higher tax revenues and reduced social services costs and local employers will gain a better-qualified workforce.
The Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), a group of local business and community leaders, contracted with the LBJ School’s Ray Marshall Center to conduct research for the Workforce Potential Project (WPP). WPP aims to increase the number of Central Texas residents with credentials to enable them to obtain well-paid jobs. The research focused on jobs that require less education than a baccalaureate degree and pay $18 per hour or more. In the Austin area, this wage would enable a single parent with two children to become economically self-sufficient. The Ray Marshall Center analyzed labor market data and identified 17 occupations that meet AARO’s education and wage criteria in four major industry sectors: Health and Life Sciences; Information Technology; Trades; and Administrative and Related. Researchers conducted interviews with employers, educators, and labor market experts to investigate occupational prospects and employer hiring practices.
Austin Community College offers training and education in almost all of these occupations. The outlook for continued demand in the specified jobs in the future is favorable. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the 17 targeted jobs will produce 2,720 openings annually through 2018.
An associate’s degree alone is often not sufficient to gain employment in the targeted occupations. Specialty skill certifications are needed in some occupations and work experience is commonly required to secure employment. Employability skills, such as good work habits and attitudes, are essential to securing nearly any good job in the area.
Implementing recommendations of the WPP is expected to result in improved career opportunities, increased personal incomes, and increased tax revenues in the region. An economic model developed by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) and adapted for use locally by NCHEMS and the Ray Marshall Center estimates that by the year 2025, WPP could increase total incomes by $432 million (after taxes). Boosting associates degree and certificate holders by 30,000 by 2025 would increase local tax revenues by around $45 million.
The path forward requires a community commitment by educators, employers, and policymakers to improve the human capital of area residents. Central Texas businesses can provide direct support for education and supportive services and pledge to consider qualified residents on a priority basis. Employers can contribute by providing opportunities for work experience, being flexible with schedules, hiring local residents, and collaborating with ACC.