McALLEN, RGV – In an interview with the Guardian last Saturday, the chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s workforce development committee, Blas Castañeda, said he could foresee colleges in South Texas training workers for northern Mexico’s soon-to-be booming energy sector.

Consider it done. On Tuesday, leaders from South Texas College (STC) and Universidad Tecnológica de Gutiérrez Zamora (UTGZ) signed a general academic collaboration agreement that could, among other things, allow students from the Veracruz institution to be educated at STC for careers in oil and gas.

Not only that, administrators from the two colleges said they would like to see STC become part of the national “Petroleum University” proposed by Mexican President Peña Nieto.

Speaking after the ceremonial signing at STC’s Pecan Campus in McAllen, Carlos Cabañas Soto, UTGZ’s rector, and Denisse Uscanga Méndez, Veracruz’s deputy undersecretary for higher and professional education, said time was of the essence. They pointed out that the projection is that deregulation of Mexico’s energy market will create 2.5 million jobs by 2025.

Asked how quickly Mexico needs students trained as petroleum engineers and the like to work in the Burgos Basin, Cabañas said: “Yesterday.” He said the importance of academic agreements like the one his college signed with STC could not be overstated.

“Under the instruction of the president, Peña Nieto, our university is looking forward to working with other universities in the region and working on oil, maybe creating a school, not exclusive to us, working together to focus on this industry. We need workers for exploration, extraction, transportation, refining,” Cabañas said.

Could STC play a part in this, Cabañas was asked. “Of course. This is why we are looking for agreements, for colleges to team up with.” Asked how quickly the students needed to be trained, Cabañas said: “Today, yesterday. This is just the beginning. We are trying to create synergies, not just between one university but many universities.”

STC President Shirley Reed and UTGZ Rector Carlos Cabañas Soto sign an academic collaboration agreement. Veracruz's higher education undersecretary Denisse Uscanga Méndez is also pictured.
STC President Shirley Reed and UTGZ Rector Carlos Cabañas Soto sign an academic collaboration agreement. Veracruz’s higher education undersecretary Denisse Uscanga Méndez is also pictured.

Uscanga said Veracruz has the biggest investment in technical education in Mexico and the largest number of institutes providing technology education in the nation. She said training for employment in the energy sector was a top priority for her state. “If we can create these exchanges between two neighboring countries, you can offer us a different view of how to do things and we in turn can share the vision of what is being done in Veracruz. We believe we will then have good results for both sides,” Uscanga said.

The key player in setting up the general academic collaboration agreement at STC was Mario Reyna, dean of the college’s business and technology departments. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Reyna said the agreement with UTGZ was based in large part on the need for more workers in the energy sector.

“Mexico wants to create a petroleum university throughout the country. All the technological institutions throughout Mexico, whether federal or state, are going to pursue this idea. Students are going to go to school for a curriculum that prepares them for all the facets of the energy sector, whether it be exploration, extraction, transportation, whatever it may be. They will have the same curriculum throughout the nation. They are reaching out to other institutions so we can support their initiative,” Reyna said.

“It is very much a presidential initiative. They realize there is a need for a better prepared workforce. They know what is going to happen. When you look at the investment that is projected, in the region of $20 billion-plus, it gives you an idea of what is going to happen. If you are going to have that kind of investment in the energy sector, you are going to need people to work in those particular jobs. The only place you can prepare them is in the universities.”

Asked how STC will play a part in all of this, Reyna said: “We want to be involved with our neighbors, to participate with the knowledge that we have; the different programs we have. They can participate with the programs they have and we can have an exchange program with their students where they come take our classes so they are better prepared to go do the jobs they might be required to do. We have precision manufacturing. We have mechatronics, all the things they are talking about. All the programs that are needed in Mexico, we have them now. The electricians are needed all over the place. It is a very demanding job that is needed in that particular industry. All those things we have.”

Reyna said the “ultimate aim” is for students to graduate from STC and UTGZ at the same time. “If a student can transfer 75 percent of a degree that we have and they take 25 percent of our degree then they can graduate from STC and their institution at the same time. Overall, it is to help the community where they come from.”

So, could STC become part of President Peña Nieto’s “Petroleum University,” Reyna was asked. “That is the plan. We want to be part of it,” he responded.

In his interview with the Guardian, Castañeda, of the Texas Border Coalition, said South Texas stands to benefit most from an expanded and deregulated oil and gas industry in northern Mexico.

“We have Eagle Ford Shale. Our companies know how to extract the shale. We have the experience. We also have the cultural ties. We have the chemistry. We speak the same language, we share the same values, we respect each other,” said Castañeda, a former workforce training and economic development director at Laredo Community College who now runs a consultancy business.

“I think South Texas is going to be the launching pad for U.S. and multinational companies working in the energy sector in Mexico. The Mexican government trusts Texas. We have great state government; we have great border legislators and congressmen who know the importance of border trade. They know how we can work together so we can achieve the highest level or economic vitality for this region.”

Asked how South Texas education institutions can help, Castañeda said: “Our universities, our colleges, our schools, will partner with Mexican schools to make sure that if there is a specific certification training needed by Mexico’s energy industry, we will help, we will be the global leader that can provide that kind of support. We want them to have the best trained workers. Groups like the the Texas Border Coalition, the North American Super Corridor, and the Border Trade Alliance, we all want to help create the best trained pipeline of workers, in manufacturing, in logistics, in transportation, and in energy.”

STC President Shirley Reed said UTGZ is a two-year technical institution, very similar to STC. “They offer many of the same programs. So, we see it as an opportunity to work together for economic development, to improve the relationship between the two countries, to exchange cultures through music and dance. Our students can visit them and they can visit us. Our goal is to become good friends and then we can develop more partnerships,” Reed said.

Asked if workers could be trained at STC for Mexico’s energy sector, Reed said: “I do see that. UTGZ specializes in petroleum trades, so this is a natural partnership. I agree with Blas that the energy industry is just going to explode along the border. They are going to need the workers, they are going to need the engineering support; they are going to need the technicians. I see a great demand, particularly with international companies now having an opportunity to explore and develop the petroleum industry in Mexico. It is going to go faster than anybody ever imagined.”