Texas Speaker Dade Phelan: Local colleges, high schools key to supplying industry boom

Published 12:30 am Friday, August 26, 2022

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Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan spoke about the need for institutional strategies to respond to changing workforce needs and to evaluate the availability of workforce housing.

“We are going to continue to develop solutions that create opportunities for individuals that are seeking education that don’t always fit in the four-year model,” Phelan said. “We have a very, very unique situation in Southeast Texas with our Lamar State colleges. In some areas of the state, you have to drive hundreds of miles to get a two-year certificate, hundreds of miles to get a technical certificate to work in industry. That is not the case in Southeast Texas. We have three in our backyard.”

Phelan said Texas is feeling the strains of the lack of affordable housing.

“We are growing a thousand people a day,” he said. “In 2020, the last census numbers, we were in a pandemic and it showed 1,037 were moving in a day. We are projected to be at 50 million people by 2050. We are at 31 (million) right now. That should concern everyone in this room. Where are they going to live?

“It is one thing to need workers, but where are you going to put them? If you can’t afford the housing, it is difficult for industry to pay them what they can afford.”

Phelan said Lamar State colleges are leading the way.

Lamar State College Orange has a 54,000 square feet driving pad and a covered area with a concrete base for seating and instruction. (Courtesy photo)

Lamar State College Orange has a  Commercial Driver’s License, and construction of a new CDL training facility was made possible by a grant from the Office of Governor Greg Abbott.

A Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund awarded LSCO $800,000 to build a 54,000 square foot driving pad and a covered area with a concrete base for seating and instruction, all with enhanced lighting.

“In partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission, we at LSCO have already trained and graduated 120 individuals in our CDL program, but as the demand in this industry is so high, this new CDL facility funded by the Governor’s grant will allow us to put even more people to work immediately,” said LSCO President Dr. Tom Johnson.

Phelan said LSCO’s classes on court reporting, construction management, real estate, logistics management and electro mechanic technology are vital right now.

Phelan also stressed the need for dual credit courses in high school, which would help students graduate faster, thus lessening the burden of college tuition.

Lamar State College Port Arthur never closed its commercial driving school during the pandemic. The representative said the decision was crucial given the dearth of CDL drivers in the state.

“We know how important 18-wheeler drivers were in the pandemic and still are,” Phelan said. “We are training them right here in Southeast Texas. One hundred students have entered the program in just the first two quarters of this calendar year. If you go to the Texas Workforce Commission website and look up CDL drivers, there are hundreds and hundreds of submissions every single day.”

LSCPA was also announced as a first phase finalist for funding to expand its nursing program.

“There is a need for nurses across the state of Texas, but especially rural Texas,” Phelan said. “Nurses are the frontline of our health care industry and we are going to produce a lot of them here in Southeast Texas.”

There are stories and they are real of students finishing their degree at 19 years old with virtually no debt making six figures, Phelan said.

“That is the American dream. My boys may do that and they should do that,” he said. “That is the future. That is a heck of a way to start your life in Southeast Texas. I call it the Higher Education Spindletop. That is what we are experiencing here in Southeast Texas. It is a boom here for our high schools and students. This is how we keep our growth up as well.”

— Written by Chris Moore