Regularly, the government releases a jumble of numbers to indicate the state of the economy, employment, consumer expenditure, and the emotions of the populace.

The Federal Reserve wants to put a face to these numbers in order to determine what citizens and businesses believe and feel about the economy’s state. Thursday, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas visited Odessa College as part of its listening tour to learn how the Permian Basin is navigating the post-pandemic economy.

At the beginning of the event, Lorie K. Logan, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Fed, stated, “I’ve spent the last few days in the Permian Basin meeting with energy, business, and community leaders.”

Promoting the economic resiliency and mobility of low- and moderate-income communities is the Fed’s top priority. So, I’m looking forward to learning more about efforts to advance economic opportunity in the Permian through education and career readiness programs during our discussions this afternoon,” she added.

She informed the audience that she would also be paying close attention to perspectives on the economy, including the impact of inflation and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to combat it, labor concerns, and supply chain issues.

Education from early childhood through secondary school

The event began with a panel discussion on education from infancy through high school. When asked what obstacles families face in preparing their children for school and achieving a positive outcome, Adrian Vega, executive director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, stated that access to high-quality daycare is one of the greatest challenges families face.

Scott Muri, superintendent of the Ector County Independent School District, stated that poverty is an additional concern. Poverty limits their capacity to engage with their children’s schools, invest in extracurricular activities, and meet their educational and mental health requirements. During the pandemic, when schools were closed and children were learning at home, mothers forgot how to interact with the schools, according to Muri.

According to Stephanie Howard, superintendent of the Midland Independent School District, the pandemic posed a challenge in terms of enrollment.

“The lack of opportunities to learn was a result of the pandemic, which led to a decline in school attendance and effort,” she said. They were home alone while their parents were at work, or their parents were forced to teach without training or preparation.

Muri stated that broadband access also played a role, as 39% of ECISD students were unable to complete schoolwork at home due to a lack of high-speed internet. Therefore, the ConnEctor Task Force is working to expand high-speed broadband access to every family and business in Ector County, so that students can learn, families can access telehealth services, and small businesses can operate.

The three agreed that a partnership is necessary to ensure that students in the Permian Basin are prepared for school and will have positive school experiences.

“We can make up for what was lost as a result of the pandemic,” Vega said. “However, no one can do it alone. All of us are required to shoulder this burden.”

If there was a silver lining to the pandemic, said Howard, it was the opportunity to innovate, attempt things that otherwise wouldn’t be tried, and meet students’ needs in novel ways.

Muri stated, “It would be a disgrace if we went back to the way things were.” We must gain knowledge and progress forward.”

Career Preparation

Willie Taylor, chief executive officer of Workforce Solutions Permian Basin, stated that getting students into training programs is difficult and requires collaboration between schools and businesses in response to a question about the difficulties of workforce preparation. He noted that there are 400 students in local truck driving colleges alone.

President of Midland College Steve Thomas remarked, “The challenge is recruiting students into career paths with available jobs.”

It is essential, according to Gregory Williams, president of Odessa College, to meet students and employers where they are. This is how you progress. We must persuade the community and the community we serve that college education is the answer and that we can provide assistance.”

President Sandra Woodley of the University of Texas Permian Basin stated that it is UTPB’s responsibility to offer programs that not only graduate students but are also relevant.

Thomas called for a “honest-to-goodness” dialogue with businesses regarding the skills they require in the workplace and the types of employees they desire. “It’s about the jobs of the future that we don’t even know about yet – healthcare and nanotechnology,” he explained.

Partnerships between institutions, businesses, and non-profit organizations “are our strength,” he said.

Organizational Operations and outlook

Affordable housing is the leading obstacle to attracting and retaining talent, according to Adrian Carrasco, vice chair of business support for the Midland Chamber of Commerce and proprietor of Premier Energy Services.

“We must find a means to bring in affordable housing by being resourceful with housing that does not have granite countertops but does have nice Formica countertops. Our efforts to attract workers to Midland-Odessa are hampered by the lack of housing.”

According to him, businesses must also be innovative and competitive in accommodating employees whose primary concern is caring for their families. He suggested that training sessions and upskilling or reskilling training may need to be conducted in the evenings or on weekends.

Tracee Bentley, president and chief executive officer of the Permian Strategic Partnership, stated that finding the personnel of today and tomorrow is the top priority for the partnership’s twenty member companies. She stated that the Permian Basin has the resources to resolve the issue due to collaborations between local schools, community colleges, UTPB, and businesses.

“There’s no reason why anyone should graduate high school without a plan,” she said.

Renee Henderson Earls, president of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce, stated that the goal is for employees to make Midland-Odessa their home, bring their families, and become involved in the community, as opposed to coming for two weeks and returning home.

“We need to promote our communities,” she stated. “We have a valuable resource beneath our feet, but the resource we possess above ground – people – is also valuable.”

She estimates that 80% of her chamber’s members are small enterprises, and it is crucial that they not only have access to capital, but also mentorship to ensure that they use it effectively.

According to Bentley, the Permian Basin will need to occupy 115,000 positions by 2040, with nurses, teachers, accountants, engineers, systems engineers, and operators at the top of the list. She stated that there is an immediate need for 4,000 vehicle drivers.

“Not only do we want to be known as the world’s most prolific energy-producing basin, but also as an epicenter for education, health care, and career readiness,” she said.

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