It was national news. The Washington Post reported on two brothers-in-law who drove more than 20 hours to bring their skills as plumbers to a newly thawed Texas. Much of the work they performed was for free.

“Yesterday, we went to a subdivision of very small houses and fixed income, and we could not feel right leaving them without running water,” one of them said.

The need for plumbers was so acute in Texas after the Valentine’s Day freeze that state regulators opened the door to out-of-state workers by giving them temporary licenses. Their help was needed—and much appreciated—but that’s no long-term solution to the skilled trades gap we have in Texas.

But two pieces of legislation now making their way through the process in Austin are. House Bill 1302 is in the calendars committee; House Bill 3204 is still waiting on its committee report.

All students should have access to career and technical education that will prepare them for high-wage, high-demand occupations that exist now and that are emerging in dynamic industries. Data released by the Texas Education Agency on March 9 sheds some light on the skilled trade gap in Texas. Of 82,076 students who completed a career and technology education program of study in 2018-19, only:

  • 1% (or 123 students) were in HVAC and sheet metal,
  • 1% (or 103 students) were in plumbing and pipefitting,
  • 2% (or 196 students) were in electrical,
  • 7% (or 578 students) were in welding, and
  • 7% (or 573 students) were in IT support and services.

HB 3204 addresses this skilled trade gap in part by creating an incentive for schools to create pathways to high-demand, high-wage occupations. The current statute (TEC 48.110) allows schools to demonstrate career readiness by means of an industry-accepted certificate and college-ready cut-score on the TSIA test—the same one that college-ready students have to pass.

But the best means of demonstrating that a student is career-ready is that he or she obtained a high-wage, high demand job after graduation. That should be our standard.

The intent of this bill is very simple: provide diverse opportunities for all students while better aligning CTE programs with high-wage, high-demand occupations.

Another promising bill is House Bill 1302, which would provide for paid apprenticeships for Texas students.

According to the January 2021 Texas Labor Market Review, unemployment among young people 16-19 is up to 18%, com­pared with 13% in January 2020. We know that a first job is a crucial first step toward future economic mobility. According to the Aspen Institute:

Youth unemployment can have lasting consequences – repressed wages, decreased upward mobility, and lessened produc­tivity over a person’s work life. In particular, this is true for young people of color, who are often combating systemic barri­ers that limit their access to jobs – and which can contribute to setting them up for disparities later in life.

HB 1032 addresses the need for students of all economic backgrounds to have access to paid internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning experiences.

The bill addresses this skilled trade gap in part by expanding the number of employers who are willing and able to offer placements for paid internships and apprenticeships. Local contractors and others in the skilled trades are often small businesses that do not have robust, existing internship programs but may be willing to take on a few students per semester with support from intermediaries that specialize in job-matching and administrative assistance.

The bill would allow school districts to use a portion of their CTE allotment to identify and contract with regional nonprofit organizations, such as chambers of commerce, community-based organizations, or industry or civic associations to provide services to employers to match them with eligible CTE students for the purpose of providing students paid work-based learning opportunities. The bill would allow nonprofits selected by school districts to set up reimbursement or matching funds for employers willing to place students in paid internships or apprenticeships.

Both of these bills deserve the support of the Texas Legislature. We all saw first-and the consequences of our growing skilled trades gap, when there weren’t enough plumbers in all of Texas to fix our broken pipes. Let’s ensure that in the future, Texas is ready for any challenge—and that our Texas workforce is up to the job.