At 3 percent, the unemployment rate in Central Texas is one of the lowest in the country. But most of the jobs driving that low rate require higher skilled workers, and roughly two-thirds of job seekers here don't fall into that category.
“A number of people who may be seeking work may or may not have the skills, certifications and degrees to fill the open positions,” says Drew Scheberle, senior vice president of advocacy at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
The latest unemployment figure, released by the chamber on Tuesday, covers Travis, Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson counties.
Labor market economists typically categorize work in three ways: low-skilled, middle-skilled and high-skilled.
A low-skilled position – in the food service industry, for example – requires a high school diploma at most. Middle-skilled jobs, such as dental assistant, require an associate’s degree or some form of certification. High-skilled jobs, like accounting, require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Roughly 60 percent of job openings in Central Texas today require post-high school education or certification.
As low-skill workers have a harder time finding employment, the area is also becoming less affordable. That leaves many residents with only two options: move somewhere cheaper or make more money.
Regional leaders are trying to help with option two.
Last year, local governments, employment nonprofits and educators came together to fund the so-called Austin Metro Area Master Community Workforce Plan. It’s touted as the first strategic plan for the community as a whole to address workforce development.
Workforce Solutions Capital Area, a public-private partnership, is leading the effort.
“The aim of that plan is to move individuals from poverty into self-sustainable, self-sufficient, middle-skill jobs,” says Tiffany Daniels, Workforce Solutions' director of communication.
She says the organization does this by “up-skilling” lower-wage workers. One of her clients was working in the food service department at a hospital, for example. The program was able help identify and pay for training opportunities that helped her become a certified nursing assistant.
In addition to health care jobs, the plan also focuses on advanced manufacturing and IT.
“Part of what our team is working to do is identify those pathways,” Daniels says. “So people don’t think they have to jump from a basic hospitality position into something that generally requires a bachelor’s degree.”
As a result of the Community Workforce plan, Scheberle says, roughly 1,800 people are expected to move out of poverty over the next five years.