BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The career and technical education director for Brownsville ISD says the Rio Grande Valley does not have enough skilled workers for the construction of liquefied natural gas export terminals at the Port of Brownsville.
Juan Chavez spoke at a workshop hosted by Workforce Solutions Cameron on Friday.
The main focus was developing apprenticeships in the workplace and pre-apprenticeships in high schools. Before the workshop started a check presentation was made, with Texas Workforce Commission and the Hernandez Foundation each giving $50,000 for skills development to Cameron County Education Initiative, Inc., a trade school founded and funded by businessman Mike Hernandez and his OP 10.33 organization.
“Right now, LNGs are coming in,” Chavez said. “If I remember correctly, the groundbreaking for one of them is January, 2019. If that happens, we are going to need over 1,200 skilled workers. Do we have them right now? We do not. Are we going to need all 1,200 by next year or the next two years? How do we get there?”
Others at the workshop pointed out that before any of three liquefied natural gas consortiums interested in building export terminals at the Port of Brownsville can proceed, they must secure environmental clearance from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
There was no other discussion about LNGs at the workshop. However, afterwards, in the Workforce Solutions Cameron parking lot, Chavez continued to voice his concerns about coping with the workforce requirements of LNG companies at very short notice. He spoke privately with Mario Lozoya, the new executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and a reporter from the Rio Grande Guardian.
Chavez said he wanted to learn more about the concept of pre-apprenticeship programs in Brownsville high schools, which was one of the agenda items for the workshop.
“We have the people, we have over 12,000 students grades 9 to 12, at our comprehensive high schools. I would like to see what more we can do for the student at the high school level,” Chavez said.
Watch Brownsville Soar
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez spoke before the check presentation was made. He praised Hernandez for setting up the Cameron County Education Initiative trade school and for hiring Rita Hernandez from Brownsville ISD. Martinez said Rita Hernandez has “great desire, great work and great heart.”
Cameron County Education Initiative started its first class in a 10,000 sq. foot building located at 3140 E. Ruben Torres Blvd., Brownsville, as recently as last month, though the non-profit was founded in Jan. 2016. It offers debt-free education, training, and career preparation programs for Cameron County residents. Its motto is, Building the foundation for a better future in Cameron County.
“This is a story that needs to be told,” Martinez said, speaking of CCEI and Brownsville students in general. “Listen to these guys speak, if that does not send your heart soaring, you are not paying attention because these kids are doing wonderful things. The talent we have here, you guys know it, but there are a lot of folks that don’t know it, maybe in other parts of the State of Texas or even in the United States.”
Martinez said he wanted to encourage everybody at the check presentation and workshop to keep looking forward.
“Keep looking at what we have got and how we take that talent and make it even better. I am overwhelmed all the time. But, I love Brownsville, it is a great city, with great people,” Martinez said. “Enjoy the city, enjoy the talent, enjoy the future, because it is here.”
Interviewed later by the Rio Grande Guardian, Martinez said all Brownsville needs is good quality education and workforce training.
“We need good training that qualifies these people for these jobs so they will stay here. If we do this correctly we will be able to fill the unemployment gap. It is a win-win proposition that needs to get done. We have had our hiccups on how to get this thing started so, as I have always said, if you have got teamwork, you can make it happen,” Martinez said.
In his remarks at the event, Martinez had spoken about his seven years as mayor. Asked by the Rio Grande Guardian to venture a guess on what the next few years hold for his city, Martinez said:
“I’m really enthused and heartened by what I have seen over the last seven years. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of great people. Are you going to have some detractors? Yes, some people don’t like different things. It is just human nature. I am not deterred by that because I think the majority, as I walk through the streets of Brownsville, they like what they see and we are just going to… there are challenges, there always will be but we are going to continue to try to address those challenges. But, I tell you what, I love the people of Brownsville. They are doing their part, we just have to keep going.”
With so many major economic development projects on the horizon, led by SpaceX, the Rio Grande Guardian asked Martinez if Brownsville is on the cusp of great things. He responded:
“We really are. Sometimes people have a tendency not to take a look at what we have got going but the truth of the matter is, we are on the brink of something really terrific, for the people, because the opportunities will be in jobs and academics. I tell people, watch Brownsville soar. That is really what is going to happen.”
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mike Hernandez said receiving a good quality education did not have to revolve around going to university.
“I think it is clear that the commitment to workforce training, not necessarily pressing everyone to go into the university to get a degree, but actually setting up stackable credits where people can get off at any point and go get a job and a good-paying jobs (is what needs to happen),” Hernandez said.
“I think there are many jobs in the future in the technical field that are going to be paying higher salaries and higher wages than those that are (available to those students) going to college.”
Hernandez also spoke about Brownsville’s enviable demographic profile.
“It is exciting. We have the largest growing young population in the entire country and it is just a matter of teaching them these skills, which, if you watch them with their phones, they kind of already have these skills, so I think it is just a matter of exposing them to it and they are going to jump all over it and be successful.”
Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron, agreed that some of the best paying jobs do not need a university degree.
“What we are after is rebuilding the workforce that we want, whether it is in the trades areas, IT, health, manufacturing, it is all technical education. That is where the jobs are. Our kids need to be directed that way, instead of, and I will get some flak for this, instead of pushing 100 percent of our high school graduates towards four-year bachelors degrees,” Hobbs said.
“For one thing, only 40 percent of them ever finish. So, 60 percent of them have built up a healthy debt, do not have any skills sets, cannot get a job, except flipping burgers, and we have not done them a service. What we should have done is given them proper career counseling in middle school. They are built a pipeline, by the CTE directors in a viable profession, a good job that is going to out there for ten years or longer.”
Hobbs said good counseling at high school is crucial.
“The important thing is, give them good counseling, put them in a career pathway for the future and then give them the opportunity to grow in that pathway, which means from a CTE program, they need to have a direct alignment with the college, because not many go straight to work from high school.
“They need post-secondary education and certification, if they get that and the programs are aligned then they are ready for the workforce and we all profit from that. Sooner or later we will have a skilled, trained workforce that is a very attractive magnet for companies.”