Dr. Zachary Hodges, President of HCC Northwest and Committee Chair of WHA’s Education and Workforce Committee, kicked off the session. He did so by challenging the panel to address what has been done since the establishment of the Academy as well as the shifting labor market trends for engineering due to the pandemic and low oil price environment.
Bill Callegari started by providing historical background that led to the Academy’s founding in Katy to close expected skills gaps and create opportunity. “If you have an Engineering degree, you’ll never have to worry about a job,” stated Callegari. Engineering teaches students how to solve problems, a valuable skill set in the labor force regardless of industry. Van Chau highlighted that many engineers who are laid off or retire early often shift to other industry sectors where they successfully apply their expertise in new areas.
Susan Thompson elaborated on academic pathways in engineering that take root in secondary education and continue through post-secondary. “Engineering starts in middle school and it starts with calculus,” said Thompson. She detailed some of the new course offerings at the Academy in Katy and how they are designed to help students earn their degree.
John Vasselli focused on community partnerships and the concerns with the aging Engineering labor market. “To me, ‘American know-how’ is engineering…and it’s in jeopardy if we don’t fill the 70,000 engineering roles needed,” said Vasselli. There are 28 different degrees offered between current community partners to help meet industry needs. An added benefit of these partnerships is that they also offer greater opportunities to a more diverse population.
Dr. J.R. Rao elaborated on how the institutions working together adds value for the students and saves them money. “Students are dual enrolled in HCC and UH Katy from day one,” said Rao as he highlighted that five of the eight majors offered at the University of Houston are offered in Katy.
The panel discussion ended with a question and answer session, which brought in some of the other workforce challenges in West Houston such as the increasing demand for health care professionals as well as changes in the technology and innovation space. Moving forward the committee plans to continue to engage the community to best understand education and workforce needs in order to work towards developing solutions.