TPM and UpSkill Houston Help Business Leaders Close the Skills Gap

Talent Pipeline Management in Texas

This article is part of a series highlighting the work of original network learning members of the Center for Education and Workforce Talent Pipeline Initiative

Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, faces a significant skills gap across seven key industries that drive its regional economy. For the region to remain globally competitive, Houston’s industries need to attract, train, and hire workers into careers that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Taking on the responsibility of connecting citizens to career pathways, the Greater Houston Partnership established its UpSkill Houston initiative in mid-2014.

UpSkill Houston demonstrates what can happen when business executives commit to finding a solution. Industry and employers took ownership for the effort, inspiring leaders from education, philanthropy, government, and the non-profit sector to join the effort. The petrochemical manufacturing and construction sectors came together first and now new sectors are coming online. Already two Women in Industry conferences have encouraged more than 850 women to explore petrochemical careers and scalable prototypes are placing more workers in positions in industrial and commercial construction.

The Greater Houston Partnership became part of the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) pilot network three years ago. TPM has been an instrumental approach for engaging business leaders in UpSkill Houston’s strategic goals. TPM’s framework clarifies roles for employers and other members of the collaborative. The framework provides common language for the various stakeholders and tracking milestones that can spur stakeholders to action. Over time, UpSkill Houston has integrated many of TPM’s key strategies and tools into its work.

As UpSkill Houston launches additional industry sectors, we focus first on creating a strong collaborative of employers from the sector and on ensuring employers speak in a collective voice, before taking further steps. For instance, in developing our healthcare sector, we convened the CEOs of the region’s healthcare systems to validate their workforce challenges and obtain their commitment to collaborate and provide the resources necessary for this work. TPM strategies helped us describe key steps and activities the effort will require.

UpSkill Houston’s work with the region’s petrochemical manufacturing and construction sectors has served as a catalyst for bringing together local community colleges and community-based organizations. Like employers, the colleges and community organizations now engage collaboratively. As a result, they possess the collective capacity to be more effective talent pipeline partners with employers.

For example, S & B Engineers and Constructors—a leader in UpSkill Houston’s construction sector—needed pipefitter helpers. The company partnered with United Way of Greater Houston to implement a Women in Construction training program. S & B provided the technical training. United Way’s THRIVE partners screened and recruited the participants and provided employability skills training and financial coaching during the program.

Eva Arriaga, one of 19 women to enter and complete the three-month Women in Construction program, continues to be employed by S & B as a pipefitter helper II and toupgrade her skills. After four years in her previous job, Eva was making only about $2 more an hour than when she started. Since completing the S & B program, Eva now makes twice the wage she was making before. She has paid off her debt, bought her first car, and become a better provider for her family.

Now, more than ever, UpSkill Houston will need to accelerate its momentum. Our people are the resources that will rebuild our community and power our regional economy in the future. Houston’s shared economic prosperity requires that industry executives pull together with leaders of educational institutions, community organizations, and government agencies to develop the talent of our residents—to enable them to create long-term success for themselves and to support long-term growth for our region.

Bob Catudal, Baytown Chemical Plant Manager, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, said about working to close Houston’s skills gap: “We’re getting the skilled employees we need, and we’re changing the trajectory of people’s lives. When a family can move from a $30,000-a-year job to an $80,000- or $90,000-a-year career . . . children have the opportunity to have a better life.” 


Greater Houston Partnership is an original learning network member of the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. In anticipation of the upcoming national workforce conference, America Working Forward, on October 16 each week USCCF will highlight what has come of the original networks’ engagement in TPM. Register for the event here or check back to learn about another member’s successes to date.