Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande Valley (TX) – Rio South Texas Regional Cooperation Project

The Challenge. The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas has fared better than much of the country during the recent recession. However, that does not mean the region has been immune to the downturn. The peak of the job recession came in 2009 as the four-county region (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy) added 18,000 unemployed workers on top of the thousands it already had. Construction, manufacturing, transportation, and farming jobs were among the hardest hit. In addition, the region continues to face challenges with regard to educational attainment, literacy, and skills gaps. These challenges were first identified by TIP Strategies in 2005 during the preparation of an industry cluster analysis for the region and verified as part of the Business Intelligence Survey administered by TIP in 2008. In an effort to build on this work regional leaders obtained a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission’s Regional Cooperation Capacity Building for Targeted Industries Program. The goal of the project was to identify and validate employer needs with regard to current and emerging skills and to identify associated training availability and gaps. The resulting document will be used to help identify areas where regional resources can be better aligned in support of the target industries.

The Approach. To create a common foundation, TIP prepared a demographic and economic assessment of the region. Our quantitative analysis was supplemented by an on-line survey of area employers, as well as focus groups conducted with local economic developers and businesses and input from the regional partner organizations. The assessment formed the foundation for our analysis of the region’s target industries and occupations. To help prioritize occupations for training, we created an interactive scoring matrix for use by Workforce Solutions staff. We also created a curricula inventory specific to the region which matched the offerings of local training providers to occupational classifications. The tool was used to compare the occupational demands of the target sectors with the available training programs to identify any potential gaps. The curriculum analysis pointed to areas where the supply of training appears to outweigh the available openings (such as entry-level medical positions) and, conversely, where training appears to be insufficient to meet demand (such as nursing and public safety workers). These findings will be shared with regional training providers to help in future planning.

The Outcome. Despite significant changes in the national and regional picture, the majority of the sectors identified in the original industry cluster analysis remain appropriate for the region. One new sector, alternative energy, was added to the region’s target list in light of proposed investments in the area (in both wind and solar) and federal priorities. In addition to verifying the targets, the plan recommends areas where regional cooperation would benefit the growth of target sectors. These include expanding industry-driven training initiatives in the region (such as the Breaking Through initiative at South Texas College); creating a regional strategy to address literacy issues and skills gaps along the Texas-Mexico border; strengthening entrepreneurship in the region; and working with local colleges to change perceptions about careers requiring vocational-technical training.

TIP Contact Tom Stellman