EDINBURG, TEXAS – The private sector should do a lot more to tap into the resources of universities, including utilizing the knowledge of its faculty, particularly those with industry experience, their research divisions, and use more their students as interns. 

This is the view of Adrian Villarreal, president of IBC Bank-McAllen. Villarreal spoke at the launch of UT-Rio Grande Valley’s new Workforce Development Innovation Challenge. The challenge asks area leaders to collaborate on the creation of partnerships within industry, economic development organizations and the community.

Villarreal said IBC McAllen is about to sign a contract with UTRGV to improve leadership and management training at the bank. He said the increased collaboration was spurred in part by a new threat to traditional banking. 

“You’ve got a new set of metrics. You’ve got a changing environment. And you have got non-bank competitors that are more significant… I consider my competitors not really the other banks in the community. I consider these outsiders (to be my competitors), these fin-tech companies that are coming in and invading my space. And so, how do I protect that?” Villarreal said.

The Workforce Development Innovation Challenge has been created by UTRGV’s Office of Professional Education and Workforce Development (PEWD), in collaboration with PEWD’s Workforce Development Advisory Committee. One of the members the advisory committee, consultant Mario Lozoya, spoke at the event.

Lozoya said that when it comes to new technology, the pace of change is occurring at a much faster rate in private industry than it is in academia. Thus, a new gap is emerging. 

A Rio Grande Guardian reporter in the audience said this skills gap was said to have been on show when McAllen Economic Development  Corporation recently took a group of VIPs for a tour of state-of-the-art maquiladora plants in Reynosa. According to MEDC President Keith Patridge, UTRGV and South Texas College administrators who were on the trip later acknowledged that they had seen technology in the maquila plants that are not available for students to learn on in their classrooms.

However, IBC’s Villarreal said that for him, it was the other way around: that the private sector had a lot to learn from universities.

“Steve, you asked a pretty good question and there is truth to that but I also think the private sector and industry is at fault because we haven’t engaged with the university as much as we need to,” Villarreal said.

“We haven’t asked for interns of students coming in, whether they are students or professors or whoever they are. We haven’t said, I need interns. In fact, I think it has kind of been the opposite with the university saying please take our interns.”

Villarreal said that as a general rule the private sector does not appreciate just how much universities can help.

“Until industry really understands the value that the universities can provide and truly collaborate and become a partnership, with the fast changing environment, with competition, and information on how everybody is doing things today, we are not going to close that gap,” Villarreal said.

“And so I kind of feel that we are falling behind, and really what is falling behind is industry taping into resources that the university has to help us.”

Villarreal revealed IBC McAllen is in the final stages of signing a contract with UTRGV “to help us with leadership training, manager training, to be more engaged with our staff, to be more productive, and to help with our turnover.”

Villarreal said when he got the draft contract from UTRGV he wanted to make sure the scope of work was relevant to his bank. 

“We had talked about these items, for example, like emotional intelligence. How do we really respond to that to make sure we are conforming to this new employee who wants to be engaged with by the managers as opposed to how I was. I saw that as a weakness. But, it is completely different now.”

Villarreal said he was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of UTRGV’s staff has a lot of industry experience.

“The value here is that, not only is there industry experience at the university level, but they have also had the opportunity to do research and modeling and to bring that research and modeling on these cutting edge technologies and processes, especially the processes that are needed to really take advantage of the re-engineering of our workspace,” Villarreal said.

“It is taking that experience and then studying it and modeling it and then bringing it into the private sector so that we can really collaborate to figure out how do we make our people more successful. Because if we make them successful then obviously we are going to reap the benefits as an organization and have success with turnover.”

Villarreal said he was “very excited” about the new partnership IBC McAllen is forging with PEWD.  

“I want to thank Jay and Dr. Grewal and your team for allowing us that opportunity. I know that when I brought that up corporately – because we serve other markets throughout Texas and Oklahoma – the response I got was, can we add more people corporately to that first series of training (sessions) that we are going to have and really look forward to seeing how we develop that because if we are successful in that model then we can take advantage of that and spread it out throughout our organization.”

The “Jay” Villarreal was referring to was Jayshree Bhat, assistant vice president of PEWD. Dr. Parwinder Grewal, is executive vice president for research, graduate studies and new program development at UTRGV.

“I think our work with the university is extremely critical, but I think the partnership really involves both (of us), not one group, and in doing that I am really looking forward to seeing what develops out of that,” Villarreal added. “So, thank you, Jay.”

Lozoya’s perspective

In his response to the Rio Grande Guardians question about universities and community colleges lagging behind the private sector, Lozoya, the PEWD Workforce Development Advisory Committee member, said the challenge was not restricted to the Valley.

“This is not a regional problem, it is not an Edinburg problem. It is not a McAllen problem. It is not a Valley problem. It is a national problem. I am not trying to blame anybody because it is nobody’s fault. It is just a problem that has been inherited, what I call the pace of change,” Lozoya said.

“Technology is moving really fast. We have had conversations with people like Elon Musk. They are talking about things I cannot even comprehend. So, it is going to be very difficult. So, I get it when the schoolhouse says, look man, we are trying to get feedback from the industry, but the problem is we are not doing that well enough.”

Lozoya said universities and community colleges should not be waiting for industry to come knocking on the door.

“We should be out there, asking them. We should have a liaison. In my opinion we should have that intern. Somebody managing the interns, (asking) hey what did you learn, tell us. I learned this. Or maybe teacher externships. We did a lot of that when I was in Brownsville. We paid for teachers to be in the industry house for a week or two over the summer. When they come back, guess what, they are improving their workspace and their classroom space and maybe even the curriculum to get in lock step with that pace of technology.”

Lozoya said he has visited maquila plants south of the Valley and seen how high tech they are. 

“I have seen the high tech facilities across the border. They are high tech. What is it that they are doing? What is it that they need? Not just in equipment but in people training, in the environment and are we doing justice to our students. It is not anybody’s fault. It is just inherent in what I call the pace of change. We need to better understand it.”

In fact, universities and colleges do not need to visit maquiladora plants in Mexico to see high tech assembly lines in operation, Lozoya said.

“Do a trip to your own back yard. There are facilities in your own back yard that are high tech. Big time. Go and understand the equipment. Understand the training. Understand what is required so that we can try to improve what we do to help you and our students and our community,” Lozoya said.

Lozoya recommended a clearing house of information be established for educational institutions and economic development corporations on what is happening in local manufacturing today.

“I give kudos to the university for saying, we need to help the whole region. And by having a vehicle like the one we are creating today, it is one of those steps that we are taking to help the whole region because we want to understand what the needs are so we can mitigate that gap,” Lozoya added.

Editor’s Note: To watch a Zoom conversation with Jayshree Bhat and Mario Lozoya about UTRGV’s Workforce Development Innovation Challenge, click here.

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