Amidst the current political dialogue regarding education (college or not to college), President Obama last week used a factory backdrop to focus on the importance of vocational training to produce a skilled workforce for today’s world.  Re-wind five decades of history and you will find that former Texas Governor John B. Connally was far ahead of his time in demonstrating both vision and action on vocational  and higher education.

His very first legislation initiative in 1963, H.B  1, authorized a Study on Education Beyond the High School. He appointed a blue ribbon committee of prominent business and acedemic leaders to study the state’s current educational assets and shortcomings, and to chart a future course to ensure that Texas was equipped for leadership in the years to come. Governor Connally dispatched me to help monitor that group’s  proceeedings. Today’s Texans would be proud to have witnessed the sincere dedication and hard work that those captains of industry and academia demonstrated over a year- long  journey.

The result of their work was groundbreaking legislation that created today’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, directed to bringing order and direction to what was a jumble of education institutions each seeking its own objectives without any overall blueprint for the state.  Former Coordinating Board Chairman Larry Temple, a prominent Austin attorney, can tell you that the lasting value to Texas of that early leadership  by Governor Connally today remains incalculable.

Likewise, when President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the Job Corps program in 1965 to teach vocatonal skills as part of the War on Poverty, Connally applied enlighted leadership with a non-conventional approach to the task.  While other states typically put a  training program in the hands of community colleges, Connally called  in and mobilized Texas industrialists to identify needed skills that would insure employment for program graduates. For example, he turned to world-renowned contraction giant H.B. Zachry of San Antonio to produce a curriculum that would train needed heavy equipment operators.  He even persuaded leaders of Dallas’ Texas Instruments to provide  a fulltime executive to direct Texas’ Camp Gary Job Corps Training Center in San Marcos for a year. Today, Gary is the largest Job Corps center in the nation and can accomodate more than 1600 male and female students.

Connally marked those achievements without formal studies or surveys. Instead, he employed vision, innovation and personal persuasion with a vast  network of leadership acquaintances across Texas back when CEOs could and did make non-partisan commitments for the betterment of the state.  Those were the days…

–Julian Read