Workforce development in the Permian is a hot topic. Still, as I have met with various educational and non-profit organizations, there needs to be more clarity between what the industry needs and how the word is getting out on professional development offerings for our workforce.
I learned that some organizations could better market their offerings and brand themselves. Public funds that provide professional development for our workforce carry various restrictions. So, how can it all be streamlined for your organization to find what you need for your workforce?
After researching this topic, I have found that organizations offering professional development work very hard to get the word out, with some success, but more is needed. That said, let’s go back up a bit to when we all decided on our future careers.
When does a young person get interested in a career? Remember you had your love of trains or football, but as you grew older, you knew neither job was in your future.
In a survey by One Poll in 2019 on behalf of—no surprise—the toy industry, 56 percent of the 2,000 respondents in this survey of parents of school-aged children had a specific career in mind for their children by five and half years old. Those jobs are engineer, doctor, and web developer/programmer. The same poll showed that 75 percent of the parents wanted their children in the STEM/STEAM career field. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM adds an A for the Arts.
However, in the Permian, many of our parents are never surveyed; if they are, they may not respond or know how or what to answer. That is why public education is so important. The vast majority of students in the Permian attend public schools. Partnerships abound between energy companies, nonprofits, and school districts. My feeling is that these efforts are making a difference. However, it will take all of us to make this effort work because our workforce needs to be engaged and literate. So what does workforce literacy mean?
Workplace Literacy is an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English and to compute and solve problems at the necessary levels. That is where the employer hopes their employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities begin. However, we know that is not always the case.
According to the National Council on Education Statistics, more than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above the third-grade level. A group named ProLiteracy estimates that low literacy levels cost the United States more than $225 billion each year in non-productivity, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
A well-educated, highly skilled workforce is the best way to keep the business wheels moving forward, and a third-grade reading level is unacceptable. A literate workforce is good for business because as workers’ basic skills improve, so does worker retention.
The Manatee Florida Literacy Council put together some basic facts that hit the bottom line about why our workforce must be literate. Workers with higher literacy levels are less likely to miss work days and more likely to recover from medical absences quicker than their illiterate counterparts. Better literacy skills contribute to better health and well-being, as low-literate adults need help understanding materials distributed by healthcare providers.
In the food industry, progressive changes, federal laws, and safety regulations in preparation and packaging make it very important to overcome literacy barriers in the workplace. Effective customer service in the hospitality industry depends on good communication in English and the ability to read and understand workplace materials and instructions. Front-line food and hospitality workers often read at the lowest levels and with the greatest need for English language instruction. Workplace safety is closely related to literacy levels in all industries.
Closer to home, look at the data on the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin’s website (LiteracyPB.org), under the Resources tab, County Profiles. The data from the National Center for Education Statistics examines literacy averages from 2015-2019. County by county, the K-12 Language Arts performance data demonstrates that in Grades 3, 6, and 9, all but a few counties lag behind State reading levels at various grade levels. Looking at the two largest counties, Ector and Midland, the Language Arts performance in Grades 3, 6, and 9 all lag behind the State levels.
The same data addresses educational attainment in all the area counties. In Ector County, less than 24 percent of students do not finish high school, and 11 percent receive Bachelor’s degrees. In Midland County, the numbers are somewhat better. Less than 16 percent do not finish high school, and 20 percent receive Bachelor’s degrees.
Various data sources demonstrate varying numbers, but the reality of educational attainment and reading levels is a huge problem, and the Pandemic exaggerated the deficits.
The Literacy Coalition has a more recent document on the same site under Economic Impact Analysis: a Perryman Group study called the Potential Economic Benefits of Improving Literacy in the Permian Basin, February 2022. Read the Executive Summary, if nothing else. Here are a few of the highlights.
The percentages of the population with literacy skills at or above Level 3, meaning they can integrate information from relatively long or dense text or documents, are significantly lower in all but one Permian Basin County than the state averages of 40 percent for Texas and 39 percent for New Mexico. About 30 percent of current and future need for workers will need at least a Level 3 literacy.
The Perryman Group segmented high-demand occupations that require Level 3 literacy (Grade 3) and education/training beyond high school but not a bachelor’s degree. The occupations include the following: heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks; automotive service technicians and mechanics; nursing assistants; teaching assistants (except postsecondary); medical assistants, hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists; computer user support specialists, firefighters, geological and hydrologic technicians, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers, paralegals and legal assistants, preschool teachers (except special education), dental assistants, calibration technologists and technicians, and engineering technologists and technicians (except drafter), medical technicians, and paramedics.
Estimates indicate that American businesses lose over $60 billion in productivity yearly due to employees’ lack of basic skills. About 20 percent of America’s workers have low basic skills, and 75 percent of chronically unemployed adults have reading or writing difficulties. In the workforce and life, literacy is not a luxury.
Collaboration with schools at all levels and nonprofits is required so that the Permian Basin will build a better workforce. What is your organization doing to work with our educational institutions, and who is preparing your current staff to keep up with the needs of today, much less 2030?
Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is the tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. —Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General
“Your employees are the heart of your organization.” Dr. Michele Harmon is a Human Resource professional, supporting clients in Texas and New Mexico that range in size from five to more than 3,000 employees. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.