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Higher Education Plays Critical Role in McAllen, TX Workforce Development

Civic, economic development and educational leaders collaborate to match skills training with jobs

By Dorian Martin on August 9, 2018

McAllen, TX
McAllen / Courtesy of UTRGV/Paul Chouy

Looking for a place where education and civic leaders actively collaborate to retain, develop and attract talent to keep its economy growing? In McAllen, where the unemployment rate is the lowest in the region, competition can be hot finding employees with the right skills for the jobs. That’s great news for qualified candidates, and for employers, it is reassuring to know the city and economic development organizations are working closely with employers and schools to match training with needs. In turn, that’s great news for current or prospective residents with aspirations of new, well paying careers.

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“Even though our employment rate is relatively healthy, we’re trying to raise wages and increase the opportunity for betterment,†says McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “We’re trying to focus on homegrown [talent] and make sure they have the opportunity for some of those higher wage jobs.”

The area’s institutions of higher education are key partners in this effort, he adds.

“We’re working closely with the colleges and universities as well as among ourselves to provide employment and make sure that we give opportunities for better wages to individuals with more skills,†he says.

Creating a Pipeline for Employers

South Texas College’s Department of Continuing Professional and Workforce Education remains a key leader in preparing a well-qualified labor force.

“In the past five years the department has doubled enrollment from 11,009 to 22,333 students,†Dean Juan Carlos Aguirre said. “During the same time period, the department applied for and received grants and contracts in the amount of $7 million to serve over 6,000 participants.”

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South Texas College is a place for essential college and career preparation, career training, customized corporate training and economic development, personal enrichment, professional conferences, and professional education and development. In addition, 12 STC institutes offer courses and programs in areas such as advanced manufacturing, arts and design, education, English as a second language, health care, real estate, technology and trades, and truck and bus driving.

The college’s latest effort involves an apprenticeship program for adults and high school students. This new offering focuses on HVAC, manufacturing, culinary arts, hospitality/hotel operations, and automotive technology, and will eventually expand into health care.

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The program began enrolling local high school students in a youth apprentice program in fall 2018. These students will take noncredit customized courses at South Texas College and work with journeymen at local businesses while completing their high school degree. Upon graduation, these students receive an interim U.S. Department of Labor credential and earn credit toward the college’s adult apprenticeship program. Individuals in the adult program work full time for the company while completing additional college coursework to receive their credentials.

A Growing University Presence

Both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems have a growing presence in McAllen and are increasing the number of degree programs they offer.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Medical Research Center opened in September 2018. Designed to expand biomedical and general research, the center is home to a growing number of degree programs, which is planned to include optometry, physical therapy and podiatry.

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In addition, the center is undertaking research, such as a cervical cancer study partially funded by the City of McAllen.

“As it grows and expands, kids who are from here who want to go to a university and medical school will have opportunities here that they wouldn’t have had before,†Mayor Darling says.

Texas A&M also is expanding its offerings. In addition to its South McColl Road site, the university has opened a Higher Education Center in northwest McAllen, with plans to expand. The university will offer programs in biomedical sciences, food systems industry management, interdisciplinary engineering and multidisciplinary engineering technology. In addition, Texas A&M is offering two existing degree programs, a bachelor of science in public health and a master of public health, at the new center as it continues its nursing degree programs at the South McColl Road site.

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All of these programs help strengthen McAllen’s workforce.

“We all realize that adequate training in a skilled workforce pays dividends,†Darling says. “Having more opportunities for our kids in different kinds of programs is fantastic.”

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