Sherman city and business leaders gave an update this week on initiatives aimed at training students for locally available jobs upon graduation. Members of the Sherman Economic Development Corp spoke about the Industrial Maintenance and Advanced Manufacturing Programs with the City Council as a part of the organization’s budget talks Tuesday.
The discussion came in an update on SEDCO’s work program, and while the work program included recent incentives for businesses and other industrial projects, members of the City Council focused their attention almost entirely on workforce initiatives.
“We will have towns come in and try to copy what we are doing as these programs continue to grow out, mature and bear fruit,” SEDCO President Kent Sharp said.
The concerns come in a time of record low unemployment, with rates hovering between three percent and four percent for more than a year. This record low unemployment has been a concern for local industrial employers as it has been increasingly difficult to find qualified applicants for available jobs. This follows a impending national workforce issue as many baby boomers prepare to retire from long-held industrial jobs.
“It is jobs issue? Is it a housing issue? What are the barriers we are seeing,” Josh Stevenson said.
Currently, there are 90 students enrolled in the advanced manufacturing program, with an additional 18 in the industrial maintenance program. About 13 are slated to graduate this year from the AMP program as its first class, SEDCO Vice President Stacey Jones said.
Both programs, which offer certificate training in industrial trades for students, are sponsored by members of the Texoma Manufacturing Consortium, comprised of area economic developers, industries and other partners.
These programs were recently shown to prospective industries that are considering relocating to Sherman as an example of what the region has to offer. One employer represented nearly 300 possible jobs with nearly $70 million in capital investment.
“This helped to demonstrate that we can grow our own workforce,” Sharp said.
Among the barriers to increasing the local workforce is a perception issue. Part of this includes preconceived ideas of what modern manufacturing is and the conditions employees work in. Solving this problem starts with reaching out to educating parents, he said.
Other issues include the mobile nature of the incoming generation of workers, said Janie Bates, Workforce Solutions Texoma executive director. The incoming generation is more mobile than previous generations, and are more willing to move away for job of life prospects, she said.
This, however, can work both ways.
“When Finisar came in, we had this kind of migration of people saying, ‘Ooh, I want to go work at this wonderful, exciting — I want to go work at the wonderful. exciting place that makes all the things for my iPhone’,” Bates said.
Other barriers for incoming workers range from the region’s limited housing and costs to public amenities.
“I know when I was a teacher, very few of my students wanted to stay here … and it was (because) there is nothing to do,” city council member Pam Howeth said. “I want to go someplace else where there is something to do. I am very proud that a lot of them end up returning, but we have to be sure that there is something for them to do in the amenities part.”