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Skilled labor shortage could help Alamo Colleges center
WCN FILE PHOTO —
Former Floresville Independent School District Superintendent David Vinson (center) witnesses a handshake between U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (left) and former Executive Director Jesse Perez of the Floresville Economic Development Corp. at a 2010 event celebrating the opening of what was then the “Floresville Early College and Technology Center.”
Wilson County NewsJune 11, 2014 4,677 views 4 comments
FLORESVILLE -- The flurry of activity that has descended upon the region following the discovery of oil and natural gas in the Eagle Ford shale has brought a mixed bag of windfalls and challenges to area cities. The growing shortage of men and women with the necessary skills to compete in the ever-changing employment landscape could be the catalyst to spur the retooling of the Alamo Colleges Floresville Center.
“We have to regroup and perhaps take another approach,” said Alamo Colleges spokesman Leo Zuniga.
One possible avenue for retooling the Floresville Center, Zuniga said, is through the state’s Skills Development Fund job training program that uses grant funds to train potential workers to work in various in-demand fields. This is attractive to Floresville Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Tommy Baker, who is concerned about the region’s lack of skilled workers.
“Right now, there is a shortage of machinists,” he said. “One company in [the El Rancho Grande Industrial Park on F.M. 537] can’t find any machinists that they can hire. These guys have to come down and spend a week in a hotel so they can work. And then the company can’t shop for any additional work, because there is no one here to do it.”
Baker believes Floresville is the perfect place for a center focused on job training, as it is located 25 miles equidistant from the centers of San Antonio and the Eagle Ford shale. Otherwise, without the ability to provide trained workers, including welders, pipefitters, heavy-equipment operators, and tractor-trailer drivers, he fears that the region could miss out on the wealth and opportunities related to the petrochemical boom.
“It’s going to run us over, or we’re going to be prepared,” Baker said.
The center, previously called the Early College and Technology Center, opened in 2008. It was a much-heralded partnership between the FEDC, the Alamo Colleges, and the Floresville Independent School District (ISD), and a key component of the district’s $63 million bond package approved by voters in the May 2007 election. Additional support came from elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar.
While the Alamo Colleges continues to enjoy a successful dual-credit partnership with Floresville High School, adult education courses have been a different story. Prior to starting the spring 2014 semester, the Alamo Colleges closed the Floresville offices, which left many unanswered questions about an adult education program that was supposed to mean dramatic changes for the area.
A representative of Cuellar’s office only said that he is aware of the situation and is “monitoring” any further developments.
Floresville ISD Superintendent Sherri Bays said in a statement, “Alamo Colleges will no longer have offices located at FHS. This decision was made by Alamo Colleges, based on a lack of response from the community for adult classes. If anyone has any questions in reference to adult classes and or transcripts, we will refer them to Palo Alto in San Antonio.”
Bays continued that the office’s closure will not affect the successful dual-credit programs offered to high school students.
The Floresville Center was hyped as the thing that would transform Wilson County, where residents with a post-high school education still are in the minority.
The center offered night classes to adults pursuing associate degrees. However, Zuniga said interest among the community sorely lacked and classes often were canceled because of an insufficient number of registered students. Cost may have been a factor because, according to the Alamo Colleges’ schedule of tuition and fees for the 2013-14 fiscal year, students residing within Bexar County were charged fees starting at $480 for the first six semester hours, while out-of-district students -- including Wilson County residents -- were charged $1,172, even for classes offered at the Floresville campus.
In its 2008-12 American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau concluded that just 20.4 percent of Wilson County residents had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among residents living at or below the poverty level -- which was 10.7 percent of all county residents -- just 5.3 percent had attended college or obtained an associate degree, with just 0.7 percent obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher.
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