by: Nicole Barrios / Round Rock Leader
The Round Rock Chamber of Commerce has designed a strategy to develop the city’s workforce for the benefit of years to come.
Chamber President and CEO Mike Odom said the chamber regularly meets with local businesses 130-140 times a year to hear comments on issues of concern. Chamber leaders kept hearing concerns from the business community on the city’s workforce, he said.
The organization decided to address matters before they became critical, Odom said.
So, in February, the chamber launched an online assessment with data from companies to get an idea of the local workforce landscape. A focus group of business leaders in the community was then assembled, with their feedback sought in May, he said.
In June, they brought together a working group of educational and workforce development professionals, he said.
Odom said the group provided valuable feedback, which led to the development of the Workforce Realization Occurring Cooperatively strategy.
“The WROC strategy is going to be our roadmap – ‘our’ being the chamber – on how we can positively affect workforce development in the city for years to come,” Odom said.
Odom said the chamber will work on the implementation of the recommendations. Some will be completed by the end of the year while some may take three to five years, he said.
“But we are committed to ensuring that those get done in coordination and cooperation with all of our partners in the city,” Odom said.
WROC areas of concern
The strategy outlines four critical areas: replenishing skilled trades, implementing accelerated learning opportunities, increasing direct-to-college participation and supporting ancillary service capabilities.
To eliminate perceived biases against skilled trades – today much unlike their predecessors – a marketing campaign is needed, chamber officials outline in the WROC.
“For instance, the skilled trades – this is a national problem,” Odom said. “There’s been a lot of discussion and research on the topic lately as the economy nationally has improved and we see the same thing here.”
On accelerated learning opportunities, according to the WROC executive summary, the strategy will advocate for:
• increasing the number of internships available to local students;
• expanding fast-tracked educational programs;
• bringing the Texas Workforce Commission’s Veteran and Industry Partnership’s advanced manufacturing component to Austin Community College – Round Rock; and
• further developing a job-training beta project being conducted by the chamber and the Round Rock school district.
“We already have great education pathways, but we need to speed some of those up,” Odom said.
Odom said the direct-to-college part of the plan is important because there are still a significant number of jobs in which staff with college degrees is needed. The WROC especially points to clean energy, computer systems development, and healthcare and biotechnology industries, with an emphasis on direct-to-college programs aimed at ensuring companies in these sectors maintain adequate number of applicants locally.
WROC will focus on increasing completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and creating an early college high school to enlarge direct-to-college numbers. Odom said the early college program could be built within an already existing Round Rock ISD high school or through Austin Community College.
On ancillary services, the chamber is considering support of strategies such as creation of an employer-subsidized transportation system and increased exposure to personal finance training.
LeAnn Powers, United Way of Williamson County chief professional officer, said the organization will partner with the chamber to offer financial literacy classes in the Round Rock community or workplaces. Powers said new workers need to be educated in how to manage their finances in order to avoid debt.
The chamber also outlines the development of an “integrated workforce-provider matrix,” which should be one of the first completed initiatives, Odom said.
This matrix would be an online tool connecting recent high school graduates and other job-seekers to companies, according to the strategy.
The chamber on Monday released the WROC to the public through a press release.
“The chamber is dedicated to keeping workforce development a top priority within our economic generation efforts,” Round Rock City Councilmember Kris Whitfield, WROC working group chair, said in the press release. “The WROC strategy provides us with a clear roadmap for addressing the subject in the years to come so that we can ensure that Round Rock companies always have access to the region’s top talent.”
Professionals from organizations including Capital IDEA, Goodwill Central Texas, Texas State University, Austin Community College, United Way of Williamson County, Round Rock ISD and the library, among others, were involved in the development of the WROC.
“We’re very excited to see the Round Rock Chamber focusing on workforce strategy ‘cause really, our competitive advantage is going to be people more than anything else,” said Steve Jakobs, executive director of Capital IDEA, an organization that helps low-income, working adults get through ACC or technical schools by funding their education.
Capital IDEA will work with the chamber to development internships for community college students, Jakobs said.
WORKFORCE REALIZATION OCCURRING COOPERATIVELY STRATEGY
Developed jointly with local government, education and business leaders, the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Realization Occurring Cooperatively strategy focuses on area workforce development through four core goals:
• replenishing skilled trades,
• implementing accelerated learning opportunities,
• increasing direct-to-college participation and
• supporting ancillary service capabilities.
Source: Round Rock Chamber of Commerce