KILGORE — East Texas business and education leaders gathered to discuss how they could work together to improve education and workforce preparedness.
The Region 7 Education Service Center in Kilgore put on the event Thursday in partnership with the Kilgore Economic Development Corp., the Longview Economic Development Corp., the Tyler Area Business-Education Council and Workforce Solutions East Texas.
Speakers included Mary Ann Whiteker, Hudson ISD superintendent; Robin Painovich, executive director of the Career and Technology Association of Texas; and Pete Lamothe, manager of TXO Learning Services at Eastman Chemical Co.
Ms. Whiteker analyzed the changes coming to public education as a result of House Bill 5 passed in 2013 by the Texas Legislature.
The bill affects student graduation requirements, student assessment, accountability and some higher education admissions standards, among other areas.
“I think this is probably the best thing we’ve done for kids in many, many years,” Ms. Whiteker said.
One of the key parts of the bill is that students will have the opportunity to earn endorsements in five areas such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary.
These endorsements mean students potentially can take more courses in areas that interest them.
Robin Painovich, executive director of the Career and Technology Association of Texas, shared statistics about labor market trends.
By 2020, only 20 percent of jobs will require a four-year degree, she said. Fifteen percent of jobs don’t require a high school diploma.
“We’re moving away from one size fits all to multiple pathways, which is a good thing,” she said.
Many associate’s degree programs have the potential to yield as much or more income than a bachelor’s degree, according to the statistics presented.
Ms. Painovich said school district and campus officials can use this data when deciding upon career and technical education programs for their schools and informing students about them.
Pete Lamothe, manager of TXO Learning Services at Eastman Chemical Co., shared how Eastman is working with area school districts to grow its own workforce.
With a large segment of its managers and workforce retirement eligible, the company, such as many others across the nation, must make sure it has a capable workforce in the pipeline.
Lamothe said the company has tried to recruit from technical schools, but often the new recruits return to where they came from. So the company decided to focus on growing its own workforce.
Eastman has partnerships with at least 13 high schools in the region with employees from its facilities involved at those schools.
Lamothe said these partnerships can help expose students to career options they didn’t know about and help motivate them to finish their education in preparation for a career.
Students also have the opportunity to apply for high school student jobs — and a college scholarship. Those who do well may have the opportunity to move into a full-time job.
“We’ll do what we can to help make House Bill 5 work and create a viable workforce in East Texas that wants to stay in East Texas,” he said.
Adrian Knight, Region 7 Education Service Center’s federal programs specialist, said about 90 people attended the forum. About 60 percent were educators and 40 percent were business, industry and workforce development professionals. Attendees came from across the East Texas region.
Knight said the organizers plan to use the feedback received from participants to determine the next steps.
Those steps could include pairing businesses and schools together that have complementary interests. It also could mean offering more training, workshops or meetings, he said.
Christi Khalaf, executive director of the Tyler Area Business Education Council, said she really wanted the Tyler-based business and education leaders to see the collaboration that is possible at the secondary school level.
Tyler is great at partnerships, particularly when it comes to collaboration between businesses and colleges, she said. But more can be done in the earlier grades, she said.
Tyler ISD spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said in an email the school district has established many meaningful partnerships that help guide programming, curriculum and certification choices. She said the district is receptive to input from the business community and hopes to increase the partnerships.
Ms. Khalaf said the council considers Smith County as a whole when looking to bring together business and education communities. And this forum was designed to be holistic in its approach as well.
“The goal of this was not to be Tyler, not to be Longview,” she said. “It was a regional (collaborative) effort to make our region stronger.”
And if the region is stronger, the cities are stronger, she said.