The Lone Star State is committed to making sure its Texas-size workforce of more than 12.6 million people is prepared for jobs of the future, while also meeting companies' present-day needs. It is an effort built on collaboration and innovation that includes local and state government, businesses, local workforce boards, colleges and even high schools and junior highs. The Texas Workforce Commission oversees workforce development services. The commission is part of Texas Workforce Solutions, a network that includes 28 workforce development boards statewide and their contracted service providers and community partners. Skills Development Fund A linchpin of the state's workforce development effort is the Skills Development Fund, Texas' leading job training program, which offers grants to community and technical colleges to provide customized job training for businesses. The workforce commission's Texas Back to Work program offers incentives to employers that provide jobs to unemployed Texans. Through the program, a company, group of businesses or trade union identifies a training need and then partners with a public community or technical college to fill its specific needs. Companies work with college partners to submit proposals, develop curricula and conduct training. The Skills Development Fund pays for the training, and the college administers the grant. The Workforce Commission provides access to a team which provides no-cost technical assistance to help streamline the development of projects and proposals. Workforce Solutions offices frequently collaborate with local companies and higher education institutions. When the San Antonio Manufacturers Association identified more than 2,500 manufacturing job openings in the region, Alamo Workforce Solutions partnered with SAMA and Alamo Colleges on the Just in Time Skilled Workforce Development pilot program. The initiative is a 90-day, fast-track training program to help participants obtain skills certifications needed to fill manufacturing-related job openings in a 12-county area. Spirit of Collaboration Community colleges are key components of workforce training, through degree and certification programs designed to meet demand and through training tailored to individual employers. One example is at South Texas College in McAllen, home base for the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research & Education Initiative, which offers customized training that helps incumbent manufacturing employees advance in their careers. The initiative is designed to boost advanced manufacturing capabilities in the Rio South Texas Region. It brings together more than 60 partners in business and industry, education, economic development and government to offer manufacturers access to proprietary, world-class advanced manufacturing and rapid response production. Training is split roughly 50-50 between the college in McAllen and local businesses, with on-the-job training comprising about 10 percent of that. Adjunct experts from various industries supplement the in-house instructors. Skills Development Fund grants offset the tuition. Since its creation in 2007, the NAAMREI program has worked with about 50 manufacturers and trained more than 10,000 employees in advanced, high-demand manufacturing skills such as CNC programming and mechatronics. NAAMREI partners with multiple higher education institutions to increase the region's manufacturing talent. "To have colleges put their resources together benefits the entire region," says Carlos Margo, interim executive director for the initiative. Similar collaborations take place at Collin College, whose Center for Workforce & Economic Development provides customized contract training for companies of all sizes. The center also partners with the North Central Texas Workforce Board to deliver certified logistics associate and certified logistics technician training. The college, based in Plano, stays abreast of business needs through active partnerships with local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, while using the latest research tools to study targeted occupations. Building Workforce Muscle Champion Cooler Corp., a division of Essick Air Products, created an internship program to help meet the region's need for skilled trades. Graduating high school seniors selected for the industrial maintenance technology program at Grayson College in Denison attend class for eight hours a week and work for 32 hours, earning a certificate in a year. Champion and its partners also created a feeder intern program that introduces high school students to manufacturing opportunities. These efforts earned Denison-based Champion, which manufactures evaporative coolers, the Texas Workforce Commission's 2012 Employer of the Year Award. Brian Aspell, Champion's vice president of manufacturing, credits the program's success to a team effort that includes local manufacturers, the Denison Development Alliance, the Denison Independent School District and Workforce Solutions Texoma. While some interns will become Champion employees, many will go to work for other manufacturers. "What's important," Aspell says, "is we're building the workforce." Priefert Manufacturing, a Mount Pleasant ranch equipment company, is also growing the workforce. It has collaborated with the On-the-Job Training and other programs, and it worked with Northeast Texas Community College and the Workforce Solutions Center to develop an industrial technology training center that the college maintains in conjunction with the Mount Pleasant Independent School District. High school students can earn dual credit in classes such as PLC programming, industrial electronics and hydraulics, some taught by Priefert employees. "We are able to use some of the resources we have to make Mount Pleasant an even better place to live," says Jim Dyal, Priefert human resources director.