Industrial-strength partnership

By Michael Bratten

A Texas college works with K-12 and industries to create a pipeline of employees for in-demand jobs.

At 19, Dalton Sasin’s wizardry with a welding wand is taking him places. This month, he begins a 20-week specialized welding training program in Port Arthur with Cheniere Energy, who recruited him right out of high school.

“It’s extra training that’s going to help me down the road, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Sasin, who learned to weld in classes at Ingleside High School. “I’m glad I went into the program. Now I’m getting a career out of it.”

Once he completes the Cheniere training, which he said pays $23.50 per hour plus a $60 per diem, Sasin plans to complete his associate degree in welding at Del Mar College. He then hopes to be hired by Cheniere at their multi-billion-dollar liquefied natural gas facility in the nearby city of Portland.

Around the corner from Ingleside High School’s welding bays are the industrial instrumentation classroom and lab where students like John Nichols are learning the fine points of electrical circuitry, pressure, level and flow.

“After high school, I’m going to continue at Del Mar, get my certificate and get a job at a plant as an operator,” said Nichols, 17, a senior who takes a bus to the class from neighboring Gregory-Portland High School.

Nichols and his classmates know that, with the right certifications and two-year technical degrees, chances are good they’ll be hired by the refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities in the area, where starting salaries may range from $60,000 to $70,000 per year.

Prime location

This is San Patricio County, home to just over 66,000 people and measuring 693 square miles on the Texas Gulf Coast. Due to its location near the Port of Corpus Christi, the fifth largest port in the country in total tonnage, the county is also home to a seemingly endless number of industries looking to hire from the local workforce.

Del Mar College, just over the Harbor Bridge in Nueces County, has for several years worked proactively with area industries and the independent school districts (ISDs) in San Patricio County to establish workforce and technical training programs in the high schools, such as welding, industrial instrumentation and process technology.

But the pipeline of companies coming into the county and a booming economy necessitated a more formal organization between the seven ISDs and the college.

On June 1, they all joined in Portland for the first meeting of the San Patricio County Workforce Development Consortium.

“Del Mar College is the hub and the school districts are the spokes in the wheel,” said Paul Clore, Gregory-Portland ISD superintendent. “All of us will be looking to Del Mar to identify the skills and programs we should be providing so that we do things in the right order as we go forward.”

Created under inter-local agreement, the consortium provides an organized structure that will help the ISDs work more closely together to develop career and technical programs that precisely meet industry needs.

College’s critical role

As the fiscal manager of the consortium, Del Mar will work with the ISDs to seek funding through grants, donations from industry partners and other sources to make the programs possible.

“We work with business and industry to know what the workforce needs are in the community,” said Lenora Keas, the college’s vice president of workforce development and strategic initiatives. “It’s fulfilling our mission to provide workforce training.

“The consortium is unique in San Patricio County,” she added. “It may be unique in the state.”

Funding for a workforce training program can be hard to come by, especially in the county’s small, rural school districts, Keas said. That’s where the consortium is already bearing fruit.

In May, Del Mar helped Odem-Edroy ISD obtain a $264,000 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to restart a certified nurse aide (CNA) program at Odem High School.

“The healthcare field has always been of interest to our students here in Odem,” said Lisa A. Gonzales, Odem-Edroy ISD superintendent. “Right now we’re sending CNA students to Del Mar. With our grant, we can get the CNA lab back on our campus with an embedded instructor.”

The TWC’s Jobs and Education for Texans grants are awarded to public community and technical colleges and independent school districts for programs that focus on supporting high-demand occupations.

CNAs are in demand in hospitals, long-term nursing facilities and mental health settings, where they care for patients and residents. Employment in the field is predicted to grow more than 30 percent, according to the TWC.

The CNA program is also a first step toward a career as a registered nurse.

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Michael Bratten

Michael Bratten is a communications specialist at Del Mar College in Texas.