To be sure, El Paso’s workforce is strong. The city’s economy is diverse, and the workforce reflects that diversity. El Paso businesses also benefit from the proximity to Fort Bliss U.S. Army post and Briggs Army Airfield. Military retirees, says the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce’s Kevin Cardoza, enter the civilian workforce already possessing many of the high-tech skills required. Even with these advantages, Cardoza admits there is still room for improvement.
“One of the things that we want to see is even greater access to education. We want to strengthen those bridges between our residents and the higher educational institutions, making sure that training is not out of reach for them. That's one of the things that we can do and will continue doing,” says Cardoza, director of policy for the chamber’s Government Relations & Education Division.
The Greater El Paso Chamber established the Government Relations & Education Division to advocate for public policy on behalf of the region’s higher education and business communities. One of the division's efforts led to Texas Senate Bill 22, which established the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program. A partnership between school districts, higher education institutions and businesses, the P-TECH program starts to prepare students as early as high school for jobs in high-tech, high-demand fields.
“For us, these types of partnerships are very important because our society has this misconception that trade jobs don’t require an advanced degree, but the reality is a lot of these jobs — particularly those that are high paying — do require advanced training. So it is important for us to have a very-well educated community that will fulfill the workforce demands in the community and the region,” Cardoza says.
Prescription for Growth
The region’s higher education institutions are also working hard at strengthening the workforce. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso recently opened a dental school, and the University of Texas at El Paso enrolled its first class in the newly formed School of Pharmacy in 2017. The School of Pharmacy’s founding dean José O. Rivera, Pharm.D., hopes to dramatically increase the number of pharmacists in the El Paso area, which lags behind other cities across the state.
“We don't have enough pharmacists in this region, and there is an acute need just to become average in terms of the number of pharmacists per population,” Rivera says. “The closest other pharmacy school in the state is more than 400 miles away. That’s why our primary recruitment area is regional. That means we're giving opportunities — and maybe a less costly opportunity — to El Paso students to get a pharmacy education.”
Rivera says even though pharmacy is a medical specialty, the skills learned by his graduates can be applied to several different positions within the health-care industry and even help attract new companies to El Paso.
“There are all kinds of health-care needs, and these pharmacy graduates will be able to deliver those needs. Clinical pharmacists can fill roles related to the management of patients that have complicated pharmacotherapy. Health insurance companies might need pharmacists to help manage issues related to formulary medications. Then there is the research and development aspect. We're going to bring more dollars to El Paso,” Rivera says.