Middle-skilled labor marketFor the past three years, 100 percent of Hutto High School seniors said they planned to go college, yet after graduation one-third of them appeared to change their minds, according to Hutto ISD staff.

District officials are working to increase the number of students who pursue higher education, and have started to expand options for those who decide not to enroll in traditional four-year degree programs, said Shirley Reich, Hutto ISD college and career readiness coordinator.

Reich said in Texas, where trade and technical skills are in high demand, a four-year college degree is not always necessary. Throughout the state there has been a shift toward training students in fields such as manufacturing, she said.

“Not everyone is suited to a four-year college, and not every job is suited for that,” Reich said. “For the last 10 to 15 years it’s been ‘Every kid is going to college,’ and so that was the push and the mindset for lots of schools. I think we failed a lot of kids because they either weren’t ready, didn’t want to do that or they were the first-generation kid who [wasn’t familiar with the process] so it was hard to get them there.”

This fall HHS’ bell schedule will change from seven to eight periods. The additional period will allow for more trade and career-focused classes such as engineering design and welding, and give seniors more flexibility to participate in internships or practicums, Reich said.

“We are excited about the new bell schedule at the high school and what it will mean for Hutto students,” HISD Superintendent Douglas Killian said in a statement. “We see our changes as opportunities for postsecondary readiness at our Hutto college campus site. College and career readiness are our focus.”

HISD is also increasing the dual-enrollment options students can pursue at the East Williamson County Higher Education Center, and many of the new courses are focused on trade-specific training. In the coming years HHS students will be able to enroll in culinary, autotech, welding and graphic design classes at Texas State Technical College’s EWCHEC campus and earn high school and college credit, Reich said.

“We focus on programs that are going to get you a job as soon as you get out,” TSTC Chancellor Michael Reeser said. “All of the dual-credit pathways include a minimum of nine college hours of   technical training, but some have more than that.”

The state’s skills gap means students pursing a technical or conventional trade often receive lucrative job offers and could reach a six-figure salary within a few years, Reeser said.

“In Texas, like the rest of the nation, there is a severe shortage of trained workers in the middle skills area, and for many industries it is an urgent matter,” he said. “In the middle skills [industries], the supply is about 12 percentage points below demand.”

To help address this gap, TSTC partners with school systems and organizations such as Girl Scouts of America to introduce science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—fields to children as young 5 or 6 years old, said Beth Holquin, director of college readiness and advancement for TSTC Waco.

“We’re building the pipeline,” she said. “In a culture that has really only looked at providing opportunities for four-year [degrees], our goal is to really let [the students] get their hands in it. That way they can make the best decision for themselves and for their family.”

Mark Smith, vice president of educational services at Temple College, said his college offers dual-enrollment core classes such as math and composition at EWCHEC and is launching a program designed to aid students whose post-graduation plans may not include a four-year degree.

This fall Temple College will offer a version of an associate degree program at EWCHEC with in-district tuition rates competitive with Austin Community College’s out-of-district rates, Smith said.

“Over two years we will offer the classes necessary for an associate degree,” he said. “[It will be] a guaranteed two-year plan.”

Matthew Dobias, co-owner of A.R. Machining Inc. in Hutto, said area manufacturing companies are in need of a larger local workforce pool.

Dobias said most of his recent hires have been from states as far away as Illinois and that—prior to the programs at EWCHEC—the closest manufacturing program he could recruit from was in Waco.

“[Recruiting locally] is huge,” Dobias said. “We don’t have to do our own in-house training, it cuts our cost internally and takes the time out of having to get people up to the [regional] standards to keep manufacturing growing.”

Whether Hutto seniors choose a four-year degree path, a certificate or immediately join the workforce, Reich said students realize that the regional labor market is a very competitive one.

“When you have international companies like Dell, Motorola and Samsung, you realize you have to be at the top of your class to be competitive,” she said. “We talk about that a great deal. Down the street is Samsung—that’s an international company; they can hire whoever they want, so if you want to get hired you need to be all you can be.”