MCALLEN, RGV – Carlos Margo, associate dean of industry training and economic development at South Texas College, says apprenticeship programs will add value to the region’s workforce.

Margo visited Trident Technical College (TTC) in Charleston, S.C. to review the model the college has for various types of apprenticeship programs including culinary arts, hospitality and industrial maintenance. Margo told the Rio Grande Guardian apprenticeship programs are the best way to prepare the region’s workforce for the current and future industrial needs as well as business needs.

Carlos Margo

“Studies will show learning by association is the best way to learn. … It’s [also] the best way to prepare our workforce for what we have now and for what could come in the future given our dive into apprenticeship-related types of training programs,” Margo said.

“Site selectors and prospective companies will see that and the more we can do to let outside people know that we are doing the optimal we can do to prepare our workforce, [then] that just adds a lot more value to this region.”

Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council (RSTEC), says thanks to our region’s strategic location and demographic strength, the Valley is in a prime position for growth via local business expansion and outside investment. He told the Rio Grande Guardian in order to capitalize on this opportunity, the region needs to continue to invest into the existing workforce development efforts, such as establishing programs that fall under the apprenticeship models.

“Apprenticeship programs are a valuable resource, not only for providing our talented youth an additional avenue to rewarding careers, but also for economic development in our region,” Ruszczak said. “First of all, they empower local businesses with tools to develop key skill sets to their future employees at an early stage of the workforce training process and are a key industry recruitment tool for companies from regions and countries where the apprenticeship model has been in place for decades or even centuries.”

Matt Ruszczak

Based on the apprenticeship program model at TTC, high school juniors and seniors are following the high school curriculum, taking dual credits at TTC and working within the industry as a paid work experience. Margo says what makes this model a true apprenticeship program is the students are working while they’re learning and also getting paid.

“TTC refers to it as a win-win-win situation. It’s something that we can replicate here in the Valley. We need to do what they’re doing. We need to work on the challenges and that’s mainly placing junior and senior high school students in the industry,” Margo said.

“I understand the complications in getting them into a manufacturing company, but there is a way to do it. They’re doing it in South Carolina and there’s no reason why we cannot do it here.”’

According to Ruszczak, the key to a successful apprenticeship program is to start individuals in their mid-teens, this is often called Youth Apprenticeship. He told the Rio Grande Guardian Youth Apprenticeships spark interest early on, good habits are instilled and the apprentices can contribute productively and be rewarded for their work, early in their professional life.

“This gives the apprentices, the employers [and] mentors [as well as] the region’s economy a head start from which the region will benefit for decades to come. [Another critical thing to keep in mind is] workforce development is never an ‘either, or’ proposition, [but] always an ‘and’ ecosystem,” Ruszczak said.

“Embracing apprenticeship models … means you are adding avenues, increasing options and increasing overall education levels by including more individuals in the workforce pipeline with more tailored solutions.”

Margo says he is working with McAllen Economic Development Corporation as well as other EDCs and various school districts to move forward with the apprenticeship program. STC will first develop the program in the manufacturing industry and will receive support from contacts at TTC. Once an apprenticeship program is successfully implemented in the manufacturing sector, STC will turn its attention to other industries, Margo said.

“Given the fact that we at STC have experience in adult apprenticeship programs in the manufacturing industry, I am going to launch this again within the manufacturing center and then extend beyond manufacturing,” Margo said. “It’s going to be a multifaceted, cooperate, initiative endeavor, but it’s possible and we’re just going to have to chip away at it.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Antonio Mojica (Summerville High School), Sterling McGrew (Berkeley High School) and Cameron Lattimore-Johnson (R.B. Stall High School) officially signed as automotive youth apprentices with Hendrick Automotive Group. (Photo courtesy of Trident Technical College).