Schools in Spring, Klein adapt to job market with offerings in oil and gas, health care

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Students graduating from high school in 2018 have opportunities to head to college or the workforce with more than just high school diplomas. Higher education programs, including those in colleges and school districts serving Spring and Klein, now offer ways for students to train for jobs in growing fields and complete certification or degrees at younger ages, school officials said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, the largest areas of job growth in the Greater Houston area from October 2016 to October 2017 included professional and business services, education and health services and manufacturing. Each of these sectors added 10,000 jobs over a one-year period.

High schools in Spring and Klein offer dual-credit and career pathway programs in many of those fields, and community college programs are working with area businesses to tailor their offerings to student and workplace needs.

The move toward workforce training stems from a job market that demands postsecondary education, Klein ISD Chief Learning Officer Jenny McGown said.  A 2016 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows more than 95 percent of nationwide jobs created during economic recovery since January 2010 require at least some college education.

“Think about that being a powerful statistic,” McGown said. “We want kids to have multiple pathways to success, but we want to prepare every student so they can be ready to go to college.”

Secondary schools

Spring and Klein ISDs have developed career pathways and new dual-credit options since House Bill 505 removed restrictions on dual-credit course enrollment in 2015. The districts partner with other educational institutions to provide training in fields, such as the automotive and health care industries, allowing students to obtain certification or even associate degrees upon high school graduation.

“Our goal is to make sure not only do they graduate, but they graduate truly equipped,” McGown said.

This year, SISD began a partnership with Universal Technical Institute  to offer an automotive career pathway to students. UTI offers technical training in the transportation field. Students can train in UTI facilities and take dual-credit classes through Lone Star College-North Harris to obtain associate degrees in automotive technology when they graduate from high school, said Lupita Hinojosa, SISD chief of school leadership and student support services.

By moving the automotive program from the district’s career institute—Wunsche Senior High School—to Dekaney High School, the district also freed up space at Wunsche for additional oil and gas programs as demand increases in those areas, she said.

Elizabeth Gilleland, KISD executive director of college and career pathways, said the district’s career opportunities reflect both job market needs and student interests.

“Currently, the workforce is retiring in areas, such as [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] and land surveying, making these ... fields in demand for students,” Gilleland said.

All of these areas provide a direct path to high-demand jobs paying in the range of $18-$26 per hour, she said.

KISD also partners with LSC-Tomball to offer nursing programs and certification. High school students can graduate with associate degrees in nursing and then complete bachelor’s degrees with an additional two years of schooling, said Catherine Gray, director of nursing programs at

“With the aging population, that’s one of the fastest-[growing] areas of need,” she said.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization, while health care in the Greater Houston area did not grow as rapidly as other sectors in 2017, it still added 6,400 jobs last year.

The Texas Workforce Commission projects the number of employees in the health care and social assistance industry to grow by 36 percent by 2024.

“The job security in nursing is absolutely phenomenal,” Gray said.  “You can go anywhere coast to coast and get the job you want if you have the educational background behind you and a clean license.”

Local college offerings

At the community college level, Lone Star College System works with high schools, four-year colleges and area businesses to help students train for jobs after graduation, LSC-University Park President Shah Ardalan said.

“The worst thing the college can do is produce graduates with nowhere to go,” Ardalan said.

The college meets regularly with advisory boards made up of Greater Houston area community and industry leaders to learn what skills companies are seeking and how those needs can help the college develop new programs.

For example, The Center for Science and Innovation—a $20.8 million addition that LSC-University Park opened in January—was designed in response to the need for more laboratory and classroom space for science and technology programs. The building provides 12 student labs for programs such as chemistry and microbiology, $1 million worth of equipment and a geology rock wall donated by Noble Energy.

The building was part of the $485 million LSCS bond approved by voters in 2014.

Ardalan said the college tries to stay flexible and responsive to changes in technology and demand.

“We have the ability to increase,” he said. “When oil and energy is hiring, we ramp up [in those areas]—that’s the beauty of a community college.”

LSC-UP has agreements  with four-year institutions like the University of Houston-Downtown to offer classes that will transfer directly to a four-year program after students complete an associate degree. UHD has created degree maps for students to show the sequence of classes they need for various bachelor’s degree programs at the university, UHD Provost Ed Hugetz said.

“When we went through that long recession, there was a real misalignment of jobs that were opening and the skills that were students were developing,” he said.

Demand from employers has recently grown for degrees in psychology and corporate communications, Hugetz said, and UHD has adjusted its offerings. A degree in health and behavioral science is also planned, he said.

The demand for skilled workers is also growing, LSC-North Harris President Gerald F. Napoles said. LSC-NH opened its $19.4 million Construction and Skilled Trades Technology Center —also funded through the 2014 bond—in the fall in response to the demand for these programs, he said.

Working with the Texas Workforce Commission, the campus also offers free education in 15 areas relating to construction through LSCS’s Rebuild Houston Grant, Napoles said.  Participating students can seek certification in areas, such as plumbing and welding, through this program, which was formed in response to Hurricane Harvey-related layoffs in the construction industry, according to the program website.

Future business needs

Despite the oil and gas downturn— which resulted in LSC-Tomball postponing construction of a $5 million oil and gas training center in 2016—Greater Houston area companies that work with that industry said they need skilled employees in a range of technical fields.

“We have identified half a dozen areas [where] we are concerned there will not be enough workers for the future,” said Patrick Jankowski, GHP senior vice president of research.

GHP formed an initiative, UpSkill Houston, in 2014 to bring students, jobseekers and businesses together to make sure trained workers are ready to fill jobs in growing fields in the future, he said.

The program offers information about the career fields, their earning potentials and the educational or training requirements for the jobs.

Dane Hayton, senior recruiter for Tenaris, a pipe company that largely supplies the oil and gas industry, said a graduating technician can find a range of employment options at the company not limited to the one defined by their training. The company’s North American headquarters is in Houston.

The company is one of several that serve on advisory panels to LSCS, providing feedback on needs within the industries.

Weatherford, an oil and gas company with Houston offices, also advises LSC-UP, provides training and offers tours of its on-site oil rig, Weatherford Test Lab Manager John Alexander said. The company has hired a total of nine oil field technicians who recently graduated from LSC-UP, he said.

In area high schools, educators have said the focus is on what will best serve students as they enter the workforce.

“Our job to make sure they are equipped,” McGown said. “We should be partnering with them as they determine where their passions and abilities and talents should be used.”
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.