A unique inter-industry partnership at the local level is taking on the challenge of bridging the middle-skills job gap while reducing poverty in Fort Worth.

J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Fort Worth, Tarrant County College District and

Catholic Charities Fort Worth have joined forces to assist area businesses access untapped talent supplies.

J.P. Morgan, which provides employment to over 3,200 workers, recently conducted extensive research on local employment trends. The research found that a fairly large number of people lacked basic academic and job readiness skills required for middle-skilled career.

According to the research, about 22% of the Dallas-Fort Worth population aged 25 or older do not have a high school diploma. While 15% of people aged 15 to 65 years have limited English language skills.

The findings were revealed and discussed at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday, April 23.

"Preparing more people for middle-skill work will sustain the economic growth of our area and increase opportunities in DFW for families and businesses," said David Nolet, managing director and market manager for JPMorgan. "Businesses can not succeed in a community that's not succeeding. Said differently, long-term business depends on our community and the people in it."

There are about 960,000 middle-skill jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Although 16.9% of DFW's population live in poverty, about 29% of the middle-skill job positions remain unfilled, which according to the research is due to the skills gap.

J.P Morgan is investing about $7 million in programs that train labor force in the two fastest-growing job sectors — healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

That investment will support Catholic Charities, a non-profit, and its objective to eradicate poverty through programs such as Stay the Course.

According to research, 40% of community college students do not complete their degree program.

"This means that our job market and our local economy is missing out on 60% of potential economic returns that this educated workforce could have provided," said Ronna Huckaby, Chief Service Officer at Catholic Charities. "These are causes that really concerns us because we know securing a living wage is the best way to move out of poverty. And the best way to get a living wage job is through an associates degree or certification from a local community college."

The current living wage in Tarrant County, according to the U.S. Census, is $24.

Stay the Course is a community college persistence program, currently being studied at the University of Notre Dame for larger applications, that provides comprehensive case management and emergency financial assistance to students enrolled in the program.

The program pairs the student with a caseworker who advises and guides on study-related as well as external materials.

In the last 5 years, Catholic Charities' Stay the Course program managed to graduate its enrolled students at a rate four times higher.

"Stay the Course directly can address DFW's massive middle-skills job gap," Huckaby said. "If Fort Worth is going to be competitive for securing new businesses, we must have a trained workforce."

J.P. Morgan also extended a "significant" two-year investment to Tarrant County College, Nolet said.

Tarrant County College utilizes Catholic Charities' caseworker model assisting students to attain degree and certification courses that have higher job demands.

Tarrant County College publishes a document listing 42 affordable and high-demand occupations, from which students can learn what career path is likely to land them a job more easily.

"We appreciate the collaboration and support of our partners to help provide excellent services for our students," said Candy Center, TCCD district director of curriculum and education planning. "And, help create short-term and long-term solutions to address workforce gaps."

For more information:

www.fortworthchamber.com/am-site/media/untapped-workforce.pdf

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