While the population and demand for services in rural Central Texas have continued to grow post-pandemic, regional employers have struggled to hire, and rural workers have struggled to access the training and support needed to thrive. Seeking to address this deepening disconnect, Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area (WSRCA) applied for and was awarded grant funds through the US Department of Commerce’s Good Jobs Challenge. WSRCA envisioned linking various resources and stakeholders to transform how three crucial industries (skilled trades, healthcare, and finance/IT) recruit, train, and place workers into high-quality jobs. This work would support the housing of sector partnerships in backbone organizations with a strong track record of collaborating with local employers, workers, and strategic partners. The Smithville Workforce Training Center (SWTC) was selected to lead the sector partnerships in three Central Texas counties—Bastrop, Lee, and Fayette.
SWTC leadership recognized the need for additional support to determine the best way to scale the skilled trades training program to meet employer needs. To assist with setting up the tri-county sector partnership, TIP Strategies was engaged to conduct research and provide recommendations on skilled trades pathways. TIP conducted a robust workforce study to establish regional demand for skilled trades. Data was gathered qualitatively through employer roundtables and quantitatively through analytical research. The analytical research included a deep dive into two geographies: 1) Bastrop, Fayette, and Lee Counties and 2) a larger region including workers within a 90-minute commute around Smithville. Analysis of the two geographies allowed for a holistic understanding of local residents who might be good candidates for training and the full breadth of regional employment opportunities available to them. TIP’s occupational structure analysis highlighted the demographics of skilled trade workers in the region, including age cohorts, to understand the impact of retirements and ensure equitable pathways to quality jobs. The resulting skilled trades pathways report identified practical recommendations and implementation steps to scale SWTC’s training programs, increase capacity and maximize quality.