We’re seeing a lot of California plates in and around Austin these days. It’s not just individuals from the West Coast pulling up stakes and moving here; businesses are also fleeing states with high taxes and unfavorable regulatory environments to the Lone Star State.

To meet growing demands, our workforce must grow, as well. A recently approved bill in the Texas Legislature could help make this possible.

Texans are still enduring the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown, especially workers in the hospitality and leisure industry, where employment is down about 10% compared to March 2020. Another notable industry with lagging unemployment numbers is mining and logging, which in Texas includes the oil and gas industry.

Another economic challenge Texas faces, and that Winter Storm Uri highlighted, is the large (and growing) deficit of skilled tradespeople—such as plumbers. According to the Texas Tribune (February 26, 2021), “A shortage of skilled trade workers — plumbers, electricians and the like — has been growing in the state for the past decade, and that is exacerbating problems for those seeking help with broken pipes and damaged water heaters.”

One solution that can help both employers that need skilled workers and Texans seeking higher wage occupations is employer-driven workforce education. A striking example of what is possible comes from the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) apprenticeship model. According to a recent Brookings Institution and Opportunity America report, five years post-graduation, FAME stu­dents’ median earnings were $96,098, compared with non-FAME graduates’ median earnings of $36,437.

The great news is that Texas has the opportunity this legislative session to allow employers to innovate with their own robust workforce training models. On Friday, the Texas House voted unanimously for HB 4361, a bill authored by state Rep. John Raney and Rep. Tan Parker in the House and by Sen. Paul Bettencourt in the Senate (SB 2005).

How would HB 4361/SB 2005 help fill the demand for skilled workers?  Very simply, it would allow employers need to partner quickly and effectively with public higher education institutions to develop the talents of Texans. Employers would be able to issue a request for proposal to any higher education institution, community college, or public technical college to offer off-campus workforce education if the institution in the service district area where the employer is located does not formalize an agreement meeting the employer or consortium of employers’ specifications and time frame within a period of six weeks of the employer’s initial contact with the institution. This bill has the support of the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Manufacturers Association, the Texas Builders Association, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and several other business groups.

For Texas to protect its liberties and prosperity in the long term, as well as live up to its reputation as a business-friendly state, lawmakers can and should support SB 2005/HB 4361. It is an important step toward improving the economic opportunities for all Texans, addressing the need for the state to have a skilled workforce, and providing an attractive policy environment for current and future employers.