Will we have the workforce we need in the future?
A person doesn’t need a four-year college degree, the supposed stamp of professional competency, to fulfill the American dream.
The challenge for high school graduates and those wanting a career change, including veterans, is determining what is out there and how long it will take to study or train for a dream job that can provide a good living. Another potential roadblock is the affordability of an education that will provide the necessary tools.
Texas State Technical College (TSTC), an 80-acre campus in Fort Bend County, might provide solutions.
“It’s the number one college in the country for conferring STEM associate degrees,” said Randall Wooton, the provost of the area campus.
It is on the north side of U.S. 59 between FM 2218 and SH 36 in Rosenberg and projects an enrollment of 5,000 in what will soon be an eight-building campus. Right now, the enrollment is 600-plus students housed in two buildings (Industrial Technology and Brazos Center).
As for the STEM degrees, they are in science, technology, engineering and math, or “the hard stuff,” as Wooton said.
“We have people that come to us and say, ‘I can’t do math,’ and they go into the welding shop and they are doing algebra, geometry and (trigonometry) and don’t even know it,” Wooton said.
The coursework at TSTC is intent on helping to meet the high-tech challenges of the economy, like in welding and other areas. This is done in partnerships that also include businesses, industry and educational institutions.
Kent Street, whose home office is in Montgomery, works with TSTC on the workforce part of the campus’ program and provides a three-week fiber optics training course on-site. With a 19-year operational background from San Diego, California, Street came to Texas to set up his brand here. He’s already trained a few people.
The certifications are for working in the telecommunication industry, telephone towers and where copper lines need to be switched over to fiber optics. Street said the demand for this industry is “huge.” The common starting salary for this type of work is $18-$22 an hour and “more than $60,000 (yearly) with experience,” according to Street.
There’s also the academia side of the campus’ program for an associate degree, which is a two-year program. So how is TSTC different than a community college?
There is only one TSTC with 10 campuses throughout Texas. And unlike other colleges, TSTC is the only one in Texas to adopt a funding model based on student employment outcomes. It’s somewhat of a novel concept since it is also based on a performance metric called “value based funding.”
“We’re held accountable,” Wooton said. “There’s a money-back guarantee on four of the 10 programs in Fort Bend County,” for jobs in high demand with high salaries. “If you graduate and finish one of our programs, and can’t find a job, we give you your money back.”
There have not been any such cases since TSTC began its operations here in 2006, Wooton said.
The tuition at TSTC ranges from $8,000-$13,000 for each of the programs, according to TSTC spokesperson Lynda Lopez, and scholarships, grants and loans are the same as in other college settings. At the Fort Bend campus, Lopez said programs include cyber security, diesel equipment technology, electrical lineworker technology, electrical power and controls technology, environmental technology, HVAC technology, industrial systems, precision machining technology, robotics technology and welding technology.
What’s more, for TSTC’s program expansion, there have been contributions of more than $40 million, which Lopez said come with the encouragement and financial support of the cities of Richmond, Rosenberg and Sugar Land, Fort Bend County, Sprint Waste Services, the George Foundation and the Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation.
So, we’re told good Texas jobs are unfilled and apparently it’s because there’s a skills gap.
“Half the jobs in Texas are in the middle skills,” Wooton said, “and there will be 96,000 new tech jobs by 2020 in this TSTC service area and another 133,000 by 2030.”
So what are we waiting for? Have we become such snobs that we think there’s a stigma for getting a high-skilled job education instead of a college degree? Is college the only true path to success?
Breaking with family or others’ expectations to pursue a passion may be a difficult choice. But it could be the right choice in a growing and changing job market, one with in-your-face job numbers and salary projections.
It may well be that the future of honorable and respectable work will not be focused primarily on college degrees. It will also be about skills, the kind that fit career jobs waiting to be filled. Let’s not contribute to losing $1.2 trillion in the U.S., which Wooton said will happen “just because we don’t have a trade workforce.”