One of the education systems serving Fort Bend County is taking steps toward improving its service to students as well as companies in the manufacturing industry, and multiple local officials have thrown their support behind the initiative.
Houston Community College’s Southwest system – which has campuses in Missouri City and Stafford – recently began attempting to enhance its ability to keep up with industry trends amidst an infusion of technology. That goal brought together more than a dozen area industry representatives, economic development council leaders and elected officials, including County Judge KP George and Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella, for a May 23 roundtable at HCC’s Stafford campus to explore how the system can better prepare students for the evolving industry.
Among the ideas discussed were implementing middle school and high school coursework tailored to the manufacturing industry – with the potential for dual-credit courses tied to HCC – and promoting STEM careers through program-specific marketing.
“With this evolving trend, we need to have a highly-skilled workforce to be able to operate those production processes, and we need industry partners to give us input as to how their processes are changing and what skills we need to give the students,” said Ritu Raju, interim president for HCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Center in Stafford.
school’s preparation needs to match the demand for those skills, and some industry professionals believe the Advanced Manufacturing Center will provide an even better start once it garners feedback.
“While certain skills sought after by the industry often lack the curricula of four-year universities, HCC can fill the gap by offering the needed training,” said Paul Fenley, president and chief operating officer of Atec, a Stafford-based aerospace and energy engineering and manufacturing company.
Though companies hire engineers, Raju said the industry is moving toward also needing technicians to operate, maintain and run the production cycle. Stafford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center focuses on training qualified workers in high-growth, high-demand and high-wages occupations in machining, additive manufacturing, robotics, Computer Numerical Control operations and advanced manufacturing. And though HCC has had manufacturing programs for many years, evolution is always necessary.
“The goal is to get feedback from community leaders to understand how the industry is moving, because at the end of the day a community college has a role in the economic impact of a region,” Raju said.
Multiple local leaders on hand, such as George and Scarcella, said HCC’s existing manufacturing programs can only be aided by industry input and have thrown their support behind the discussions.
“Many young people don’t know such opportunities exist,” George said. “Education is very close to my heart. I’m here to help because what you do is life-changing.”
“Let’s take advantage of the tremendous manufacturing network we have here,” Scarcella added in a news release. “Let’s create a conduit for the students in this area to receive an excellent education and to be part of a competent, highly trained workforce for our companies.”
The U.S. Department of Labor designated HCC as a registered apprenticeship sponsor this past March – making it the only institution in the Gulf Coast region to offer manufacturing apprenticeships in collaboration with local companies.
“HCC Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence is poised to be a primary generator of manufacturing talent in the region,” HCC Southwest president Madeline Burillo-Hopkins said.
Raju echoed the sentiment, saying a continuous flow of talent is necessary to keep any industry strong and that manufacturing is no different. And thanks to discussions such as last week’s session, HCC Southwest hopes to bring that vision to fruition. There will soon be monthly open houses at the manufacturing center’s building at 13622 Stafford Rd.
“We always need to ensure a steady pipeline of talents. Upskilling is a huge need right now in manufacturing,” Raju said. “Our goal is to meet all the needs of the industry so they can be assured we will provide that pipeline. We will have the capabilities now to support their needs.”