While her two sisters played with their baby dolls, a young Lynn McBee spent her time collecting bugs, conducting experiments with her chemistry set, and building ramps for her Derry Daring Trick Cycle. (The action-figure toy was marketed as the girl version of a set featuring motorcycle stunt king Evel Knievel.)
McBee’s father, a Korean War vet who used the G.I. Bill to earn a master’s degree in mathematics, strongly supported her interests. Her mother, an SMU grad who was a teacher for about 10 years, was confused by it. “She saw how much I loved being outside and how I was sparked by science, though,” McBee says. “I was lucky to have my parents in my camp saying, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ And so, I did.”
She earned a biochemistry degree at The University of Texas in Austin, when just 25 percent of students in the school’s College of Natural Sciences were women. She then took a job with New England Bio Labs in Boston, working as a research scientist. McBee was transferred to Dallas and, after three decades with the company, shifted to an advisory role to take the helm of Young Women’s Preparatory Network.
The organization supports 10 STEM-focused, all-girls public schools in Texas. “I’m passionate about helping girls have an opportunity to get an education—especially in the science field because that’s where the jobs of tomorrow are,” she says. “I also think women make the best engineers and scientists because we multitask, we’re creative in our thinking, and we’re naturally more analytical because we’re always having to do a million things and problem-solve.”
This isn’t just about plugging someone into a job; it’s about developing a career path that will change not only their lives but generations that follow.”Lynn McBee
In late 2018, McBee joined a crowded field of Dallas mayoral candidates. She finished third, losing out to current Mayor Eric Johnson—whom she has known since their days in Leadership Dallas’ class of 2006. This past January, McBee accepted an invitation from her former rival to serve as the city’s workforce development czar.
Programs like Dallas Promise and other initiatives through DISD and Dallas College have made inroads with middle school and high school students, McBee says; the workforce initiative is targeted at an older population of people (25 to 65 years old) who need to be skilled, reskilled, or upskilled.
“Quite frankly, the only way we will be able to grow as a city is if we develop our workforce,” she says. “This isn’t just about plugging someone into a job; it’s about developing a career path that will change not only their lives but generations that follow.”
It’s an audacious goal and one that will require finding a way to help people—many who are grappling with generations of poverty—overcome significant barriers, including transportation and childcare issues. As she does with everything, McBee is approaching the problem with a scientific mindset. “Scientists think in terms of systems and processes,” she says. “It makes you very efficient, and it makes you able to make decisions quicker.”
In June, McBee and Mayor Johnson announced a comprehensive job training plan called Workforce Dallas. Other strategies include working with faith-based organizations and nonprofits to build awareness and the business community to provide support, jobs, and career pathways. That might mean, for example, helping an airline mechanic get the needed education and training to become a pilot.
“Immediately after the mayor made the announcement, companies began reaching out and offering support,” McBee says. “The pieces are there; it’s just connecting everyone and helping them align behind what we’re going to call success.”
Bridging the Divide Between Jobs and Skills
Along with McBee’s appointment as workforce development czar, the city-wide initiative to up-skill Dallas centers on these three priorities, outlined in a report by Cicero Group, commissioned by Mayor Johnson.
- Formal collaboration. Establishing formal agreements with existing workforce development organizations to align efforts and accountability for outcomes.
- Program engagement. Leverage the mayor and city council members to communicate and promote local upskilling programs to target audiences.
- Navigation support. Refine digital support and develop a hub to help working-age adults take advantage of upskilling opportunities and resources.