Mayor Eric Johnson releases ‘Upskilling Dallas: How to Modernize the City’s Workforce for the Jobs of Tomorrow’

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

DALLAS — Mayor Eric Johnson on Thursday released a highly anticipated new report that provides a roadmap for how the city can help its residents learn the skills they need to succeed in a changing economy.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
Mayor Eric Johnson

Cicero Group, a research and management consulting firm, produced the report, Upskilling Dallas: How to Modernize the City’s Workforce for the Jobs of Tomorrow, after Mayor Johnson commissioned it earlier this year with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The recommendations made in the report were the result of months of data-gathering and collaborative discussions with educational, philanthropic, nonprofit, and business sector partners. Dallas College, in particular, played a key role in the report’s development.

Mayor Johnson on Wednesday announced the impending release of the report during his annual State of the City address.

“Workforce development is one of the most important and least discussed issues of our time, especially here in Dallas,” Mayor Johnson said. “For as long as I can remember, the health of the Dallas economy has been judged in terms of real estate deals or the number of jobs we bring in from someplace else. But to build for our future, we must consider how we can fill those jobs with the people who already call Dallas home.

“By investing in new upskilling efforts and working with our partners to help promote, refine, and expand existing programs, we can help our residents better themselves, make more money, and start exciting new careers. Together, we can build the workforce of the future — one that will attract and grow businesses, build equity, and sustain our city’s outstanding economic growth for years to come.”

The report details four recommendations for improving workforce development:

  • Workforce Liaison: Appoint an individual to implement the recommendations, track progress, and ensure the city is represented in regional workforce development efforts.
  • Formal Collaboration: Establish a formal agreement with existing workforce development organizations to align efforts and accountability for outcomes.
  • Program Engagement: Leverage the mayor’s unique role to communicate and promote local upskilling programs to target audiences.
  • Navigation Support: Refine digital supports to assist working-age adults in navigating upskilling opportunities and resources.

“The recommendations of the panel are heartening and come at a perfect time,” said Dr. Joe May, Chancellor of Dallas College. “Together with our Dallas College partners, we are increasing the size of the city’s workforce through a diversified portfolio of technical and job-training programs. We recognize that not every life-sustaining and rewarding job requires a four-year degree, and in some cases, as in IT, a certificate opens the first door.

“It’s been a pleasure collaborating with the Mayor’s team on this study,” Dr. May added. “Working in lock-step with our community partners, the path toward a better life through a Dallas College education is more real than ever. There are already too many barriers that keep our high school graduates out of higher education. Through our workforce development programs and our community partners, Dallas College is playing a vital role in getting the citizens of Dallas on a trajectory toward a rewarding future that grows the city’s economy for the health of our regional economy, too.”

Mayor Johnson is asking the Dallas City Council’s Workforce, Education, and Equity Committee to discuss the report at its December briefing. The mayor has asked the committee’s vice chair, Casey Thomas, to help champion the recommendations. Councilmember Thomas and Committee Chairwoman Jaynie Schultz served on Cicero Group’s workforce study steering committee during the report’s development.

“If we want a strong city, we need to build a strong workforce. With these recommendations, our city can work with our private partners to expand opportunities across Dallas,” said Chairwoman Schultz. “I am grateful for Mayor Johnson’s commitment to this issue, and I look forward to working with him, Chairman Thomas and my City Council colleagues to ensure these plans are implemented.”

“Workforce development is more than an economic development issue. It’s an equity issue,” said Vice Chairman Thomas. “I share Mayor Johnson’s passion for helping the people of southern Dallas become more competitive for jobs in the changing economy. Everyone in our city deserves an opportunity for success.”

The city’s 2021-22 fiscal year budget includes funding to help implement the recommendations through a new Small Business Center. In addition, Mayor Johnson pledged in his State of the City address to use his discretionary American Rescue Plan Act funds to supplement the efforts.

Mayor Johnson, who grew up in underserved communities in West Dallas and Oak Cliff, named workforce development as a top priority when he took office in 2019. Earlier that year, the Brookings Institution released a report estimating that 25% of the jobs in the U.S. could be threatened by automation in the years ahead.

Since that report’s release, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of changes and economic disruptions. While the economy has improved, various job sectors are now facing labor shortages — while many workers remain unemployed or underemployed.

“Workers and those who have yet to enter the workforce need an accessible path to a ‘work and learn’ strategy for upskilling,” said Laurie Larrea, President, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas. “As the Workforce Board in Dallas County, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas joined Mayor Johnson in this quest, and we commend the results.

“Texas, and particularly North Texas, is rebounding faster than most of the country. We need to seize the opportunity of this incredible economy and growth by providing the best opportunities to our current Dallas workforce. We also recognize that residents can’t necessarily give up the job they have to get the opportunities they need. Through this report, upskilling and the accessible delivery of skills training is the priority. Data shows the workforce has changed and will continue to evolve quickly to meet the advances in business. Great jobs are waiting!”

“Cities that invest in helping residents build new skills at every stage of their professional lives will be best positioned for long-term competitiveness,” said Alan Cohen, President and CEO of the Child Poverty Action Lab (CPAL). “I commend the Mayor for lifting up reskilling as a necessary and addressable priority for Dallas’ workforce.”

In total, Cicero Group consulted 42 experts and conducted 70 meetings to help develop the report.

“Our research pointed to the needs of working-age adults, with less than a college education, as a population who can be benefiting more from the city’s economy,” said Kerri Briggs, Partner, Cicero Group.

“We look forward to seeing the actions and impact that can result as the recommendations are implemented.”

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