(WACO) – Technical and community colleges in Texas must continue to be proactive in meeting the needs of state and regional business and industry partners, according to workforce and economic development leaders.
“Moving forward, the colleges are going to be much more critical to our efforts,” said Jason Hilts, president and chief executive officer of the Brownsville Economic Development Council. “We don’t have enough skilled labor force. It’s not just a Brownsville or a Rio Grande Valley problem; it’s a national problem. If we are trying to create those sustainable jobs that help create a better community, we need to have a labor force that has more skills associated with it or we are not going to be able to compete for projects.”
The Texas Economic Development Division of the Office of the Governor focuses on attracting and retaining companies in aerospace, energy, information technology, petroleum refining and chemicals, biotechnology and advanced technology and manufacturing.
Some cities, such as Wichita Falls, look toward data centers to drive the economy, while Arlington aims for medical device manufacturers. The Borderplex Alliance (which includes Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; El Paso; and Las Cruces, New Mexico) touts alternative energy and defense.
“Business and industry do not have borders,” said Jaime Farias, associate vice president for workforce and continuing education at El Paso Community College.
Hilts said the jobs of the future are focusing on automation, robotics, logistics, medical and food manufacturing, aerospace and 3-D printing.
In early 2016, the Computer-Aided Drafting program at Texas State Technical College in North Texas began using a 3-D printer to prepare students for engineering, design, manufacturing and design work. TSTC offers an associate degree and level-two certificate in Computer-Aided Drafting.
Some two-year institutions have specialized centers to target job training.
Victoria College’s Emerging Technology Complex opened in June 2015 and has a 72,000-square-foot Conference and Education Center and a 42,000-square-foot Industrial Training Center. Since its opening, the college has hosted the Texas Water Utilities Association, INVISTA and other entities for meetings and hands-on training.
Del Mar College in Corpus Christi opened in 2016 a $2 million Process and Instrumentation Technology Pilot Plant on its West Campus. The facility is used in the college’s mission of educating workers for the refining, petrochemical, and oil and gas industries.
The Texas Workforce Commission offers Skills Development Fund grants for localized workforce training for technical and community colleges, economic development entities and workforce development boards. Skills Development Fund grants have helped more than 4,100 statewide employers with training for 329,000 employees since 1996, according to TWC’s “Skills Development Fund Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2015.”
TSTC received more than $2.2 million in Skills Development Fund grants through five TWC awards in Fiscal Year 2016. This translated into more than 1,000 Texas workers receiving customized training to improve their skills in instrumentation, advanced motor controls, logistics, hydraulics, troubleshooting and other tasks.
“TSTC has been a long-time partners of the TWC in the deployment of Skills Development Fund and Skills for Small Business grants that support customized workforce training for companies across the state,” said Carliss Hyde, vice president for sponsored programs at TSTC. “We are grateful to be part of the process in this successful program and anticipate nothing but continued growth in our involvement in these projects.”
El Paso Community College has used TWC funding in the past to provide training in welding, plastics mold technology, information technology and other fields. Farias said the college can stay flexible and develop training quickly with the funds. He credited the partnership the college has with the TWC, the city of El Paso and the Borderplex Alliance for coming together to help industries.
“It helps to keep retention for these companies and develops a person who has additional skills to increase productivity in that company,” Farias said.
The resources are in place for Texas’ technical and community colleges to continue adapting to an evolving global economy and to train students for tomorrow’s jobs.
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