Texas Labor Commissioner Bryan Daniel gave an insightful presentation detailing the current state of the Texas workforce, how TWC responded at the height of the pandemic, and outlined the state’s economy as “on fire” during the “Quarter 1 Industry Inclusion Luncheon” hosted by the Kerr Economic Development Corporation last week at Schreiner University.
Daniel dissected 18 months of Texas Workforce Commission data and workforce trends that revealed a huge gap in middle-skilled workers and provided encouraging insights into the future of the economy. State even as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I call what we went through an ‘Economic Tilt-a-Whirl,'” Daniel said, speaking of the famous carnival ride. “In February 2020, the State of Texas had the most jobs ever created in the State of Texas. By mid-March 2020, we are already seeing the effects of the pandemic.”
Daniel said the first job loss claim was received at TWC offices on March 13 and quickly peaked at nine million job loss claims.
“That’s about four and a half million Texans, because some people have more than one job,” Daniel said. “It was about $51 billion, with a ‘B’ in claims. Of this amount, $7.1 billion was billed to Texas employers. All of this happened in about 90 days.
He said Texas went from all-time highs to all-time lows in three months and “that’s why I call it an economic whirlwind.”
He said many companies have found ways to continue operations, while letting employees work remotely or return to work safely on time.
“They figured out how to use ‘to-go margaritas,’ how to do curbside business,” Daniel said. “But the effects of the economic whirlwind have not stopped. It was an interesting and difficult race. There was a time at the Texas Workforce Commission where the phones rang 3,000 times every 60 seconds.
He said that to answer every call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, TWC would have needed 46,000 telephone operators. In response, Daniel said, they hired contractors and set up call centers to respond to the avalanche of job loss claims.
“We only average about 800,000 claims a year, but we’ve made claims for 4.5 million out of nine million claims in about 18 months,” Daniel said. “The pressure on the agency was extreme, but imagine the pressure on people who didn’t have jobs.”
He said TWC officials began finding programs and pathways to help unemployed Texans and within 50 days of the first claim for job loss, they began re-entering some into the workforce.
“Sometimes it was the same job and sometimes it was a different job,” Daniel said. “People ask me when the recovery is going to start. We have already started the recovery, technically 50 days after the first complaint. Economically, we got out of it, but psychologically, not so much.
In November 2021, Daniel said the previous record for most Texans working just before the pandemic was broken and a new one was set.
“So we broke our February 2020 record… 13 million jobs filled and just over 14 million in the civilian workforce,” Daniel said. “Employers have been amazing in their ability to find their way to success, and with that comes more jobs for more Texans.”
However, Daniel said that while we are setting records, at the same time that the number of people on unemployment benefits is 19% lower than it was in February 2020, unemployment is rising.
“So we have more jobs filled, almost 20% less people on unemployment benefits, but our unemployment rate is 5.2% today, but it was 3.7% in February 2020 “Daniel said. “I cannot explain this phenomenon.”
Although the statistics are difficult to understand, Daniel said the current data raises more questions than answers.
“There are two million people working in this state who weren’t working in February 2020,” Daniel said. “I don’t know where they come from. People moved here during the pandemic, but not two million people. »
Daniel said he believed many people left the workforce completely before the pandemic, for whatever reason, but chose to return to work.
“Even with a 5.2% unemployment rate, we have 800,000 jobs on the TWC employment website that are available right now,” Daniel said. “If you want to be a nurse, come talk to me. Last time I looked, there were over 70,000 jobs for nursing positions available on workingtexans.com.
As a preview of the current economic situation, however, the future looks bright for Texans, Daniel said.
There are people who leave their jobs, he said, but who do not leave the labor market.
“They call it the ‘Great Quit,’ but I call it the ‘Great Reassessment,'” Daniel said, explaining that workers choose to change careers.
Daniel said the reports of workers leaving their jobs are true, but they are not leaving the workforce, but rather deciding to pursue new career paths.
“They’ve had time to think about what they’d really like to do and decide to change,” Daniel said.
Drawing on the TWC’s experience during the wave of job loss claims in 2020, Daniel said employers had to find creative ways to be productive and technology filled the void.
“What were we going to do? The artificial intelligence is amazing,” Daniel said. “We get all these calls, so we set up a ‘chat bot’. Chat bots are amazing. They don’t get tired. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They They’re not asking for a raise. They’re not real people. They’re computers.
Daniel said they programmed their “bot” to answer frequently asked questions to help streamline responses to customers.
“We’ve named our ‘bot’ Larry. And, once in a while, Larry will message that he’s getting questions he doesn’t know the answer to,” Daniel said. “And we provide updates .”
Daniel said “Larry” is trilingual and provides invaluable data on the needs of unemployed workers seeking help through the TWC hotline.
“People are very comfortable texting a computer,” Daniel said. “It’s a totally new tactic. It’s a tool and that’s what tactics have become… tools.
He pointed to some other tech products that emerged during the challenges of operating a business amid a pandemic, such as Zoom video conferencing meetings, saying what started as an effort to survive have become tools for growth as pandemic pressures abate.
“I described to you an economy that is, frankly, on fire,” Daniel said. “We add 40,000 to 50,000 new jobs every month. We (the State of Texas) are the ninth largest economy in the world.
He said the current growth rate the state is experiencing is putting pressure on the workforce.
“But there is room for progress, 56% of jobs in this state are mid-skill jobs,” Daniel said. “These are jobs that require training after high school, but they don’t require a college degree. This represents 7.4 million jobs. But only 46% of Texans have those credentials. It’s a gap.
Ultimately, Daniel said, 10% of the workforce could have better jobs simply by earning industry certification or an associate’s degree in the various mid-skill markets.
These mid-level jobs range from construction, to medical posts, to cooking, and many more. In Kerr County, high school students can get a boost toward their certifications through various vocational programs at their respective schools.
Daniel said TWC is trying to fill the backlog of middle-skilled jobs, but at the same time trying to make sure the jobs people leave stay filled.
“That’s the challenge,” Daniel said. “When everything happens at the same time, it’s a challenge. We have invested $19 million in programs to help us eliminate this intermediate skills shortage.
The flagship feature that will come out of this investment, Daniel said, is a phone app that will allow a citizen to enter their credentials and be matched to jobs specific to their location.
“It will go live in about a year,” Daniel said. “These are tools and tactics in action.”
Ultimately, Daniel said TWC is working to find ways to capitalize on the tremendous growth the state is seeing, filling the gaps as quickly as possible and partnering with employers.