The Houston region is expected to have 296,000 job openings in the “middle-skills” occupations within the next three years, and a new effort is being launched to fill them.

The Greater Houston Partnership is teaming up with JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSWE: to launch the new “UpSkill Houston” action plan. The goal is to partner businesses, schools, community colleges, social services and more to help fill the huge glut of jobs that require more training than a high school diploma, but less than a university degree, in a number of fields that range from the energy sector to health care.

The UpSkill Houston program will create seven sector-specific councils to improve coordination among the stakeholders. The seven key sectors for the Houston region are advanced manufacturing, construction, health care, oil and gas, petrochemical, ports and maritime, and utilities.

Gina Luna, chairwoman of the JPMorgan Chase Houston market, said every conversation she has with business leaders concerning corporate challenges focuses largely on the “ability to find skilled workers.”

Luna said the effort will focus on building awareness, basic skills and employability, coordination, and data.

The project is focusing on “middle skills” because that is where the job gaps are growing most rapidly. Bob Harvey, GHP president and CEO, said the narrow term “blue collar” conjures up the imagery of labor-intensive jobs in the sun

“We’re going to directly confront a stereotype that you should go to college, even if you don’t know what you want to do … even if you don’t know how you’ll afford it,” Harvey said. “There’s an alternative path that’s good.”

Harvey said success isn’t defined by a diploma.

“Success is building the skills to support a family,” he said, adding that there are multiple paths to that goal.

Luna said a new welder in the Houston area can have a starting salary close to $75,000 a year.

“We frame this as, ‘You need the skills to get a better-paying job,'” Harvey said. “We didn’t perceive of this as a counter to the minimum wage debate.”

The effort will target both young people and the “unemployed or underemployed adults.”

Harvey said they are not attaching set timelines to the effort because “we’re intending to build something that lasts,” and not rushing to get it done and move past it. Although none of the councils are finalized yet, the first will be petrochemical, he said.

Much of the job growth in the Houston region is related to or following the domestic shale oil and gas boom. The petrochemical growth is a related”second boom.”

JPMorgan Chase is conducting a “New Skills at Work” program to collect data prospectively on the upcoming workforce gaps and what efforts are needed. Luna said Houston is the first market participating in the program. The findings will be released at a Houston fall summit in October or November.

As part of the overall effort, JPMorgan Chase is donating $250 million nationwide, including $5 million in the Houston area. That Houston investment includes $250,000 to GHP’s Opportunity Houston 2.0 campaign to support UpSkill Houston. The campaign also includes $500,000 to Lone Star College to expand training programs

Article and Image sourced from June 24th, 2014