This holiday season, I want to express my gratitude for an incredibly valuable but under appreciated resource we have here in our region: community colleges.
Specifically, Kilgore College and Texas State Technical College-Marshall are doing excellent work in the community. Kilgore offers dual credit enrollment to all three public school districts in Longview proper. Even more importantly for the Chamber, both offer unique and innovative opportunities for collaboration with our local industries.
As one example, manufacturer Komatsu runs a “Komatsu University” program that helps high school students and adults attain relevant certifications through both TSTC and Kilgore. Eastman Chemical Company, Texas Operations has offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to Kilgore– and then ultimately hired nearly half of awardees.
These kinds of partnerships are essential because industries across our region– and indeed the entire country– are struggling to find skilled, qualified labor. The pandemic has definitely worsened this problem, but it’s important to recognize this trend predated our COVID contractions, and will likely persist even as we’re now past the worst of the downturn.
Last year, the Longview Chamber worked with The Graduate! Network to publish the Bridging The Talent Gap study, featuring an extensive survey of Longview-area employers. 100%(!) of science industry representatives reported “difficulty in finding candidates for positions,” with medical, engineering, and skilled trades following closely behind. Each of these fields relies on positions requiring some type of postsecondary credential, though not always necessarily a Bachelor’s.
Meanwhile, according to the same study, 25% of adults in Longview have some college but no credential. This is an untapped resource of more than 36,000 community members for our understaffed industries, who would do well to emulate the success Eastman Chemical found working with Kilgore.
But too often, government systems fail to incentivize, or even actively discourage, this kind of innovation. As one example, Kilgore and TSTC are funded using completely different formulas, complicating collaboration between the two systems. Grants meant to promote workforce 410 N Center St Longview TX 75601 www.LongviewChamber.com development go through layers of unnecessary bureaucracy. Students lack flexibility to change pathways or return to the classroom with previous credit hours intact.
That’s why the work of the ongoing Texas Commission on Community College Finance is vital to the future of East Texas. Commissioners “will make recommendations… for sustaining viable community college education and training offerings throughout the state.”
The Longview Chamber fully supports this effort, and hopes that the eventual recommendations will aim to increase both student completion and industry alignment. Commissioners should look to partnerships like Kilgore and Kotmatsu as models to reward and replicate. Fortunately for all involved, Kilgore President Dr. Brenda Kays has been appointed to serve by Speaker Dade Phelan.
In the Graduate! Network study mentioned earlier, 83% of businesses expressed an interest in partnering with local colleges, but only 18% reported current participation in any efforts. Our policymakers would do well to ask the others what’s stopping them. By lowering the bureaucratic barriers and increasing accessibility for students, we can ensure the earnings of employers and employees alike continue to grow.