McALLEN— South Texas College is preparing to expand its manufacturing workforce training initiatives into Reynosa, a move administrators at the college say will stimulate economic development on both sides of the border.
The college’s board of trustees briefly discussed the possibility of a cross-border expansion at a meeting last week, with administrators emphasizing that the training would be paid for by Mexican businesses and would not be funded through taxpayer dollars.
“There’s really a great need for high level skills training in the maquilas,” STC President Ricardo Solis said at the meeting, “and unfortunately it’s very difficult for a lot of those folks to get across the bridge to our side, and so there’s been a request to do those kind of skilled training in Reynosa.”
Although international training isn’t unheard of, STC’s Dean of Industry Training and Economic Development Carlos Margo says it isn’t happening in the Valley now and the college hasn’t previously engaged in it.
Margo says he feels demand for the training will be high. It’s a move, he says, that just makes sense.
Reynosa is a bare five miles from STC’s campus, an industrial city with no shortage of individuals in need of on the job training.
“I mean there’s over 130,000 manufacturing employees currently employed in Reynosa and over 150 companies,” he said. “And that’s our specialty here in the division that I oversee at STC, is to provide workforce training to business and industry.”
Training could be happening as soon as late 2021 or early 2022, Margo said. He foresees training being offered to several hundred employees within the first months of the program, a number he expects to grow into the thousands by the end of the first year.
“I’m looking at probably four or five thousand per year minimum, to start, the first couple of years,” Margo said. “And then from there it just depends on capacity and demand and growth patterns. Because we have the capacity, we have the capacity to grow. We have the expertise. Again, it’s just a matter of making sure that its controlled growth.”
That training could take the form of virtually any of STC’s curriculum that’s not capital intensive and contingent on equipment that’s physically located on STC’s campus— some 500 different training options, Margo said.
Those include courses on industrial maintenance: teaching employees how to do troubleshooting, repairs and maintenance on industrial equipment. It includes metalworking and computer skills, and robotics.
It even encompasses soft skills, Margo said. Things like customer service and language training.
“We have a lot of international managers that are there from Asia that would like to learn Spanish, that would like to learn English,” Margo said. “So we’re prepared to offer them essentially anything they could possibly need with regards to their labor force.”
According to Margo, the college’s binational instruction should be able to cover 90% of Reynosa maquiladoras training needs, a feat the college expects to have a significant impact on the Rio Grande Valley’s economy.
A 10% increase in maquiladora output results in a 6.6% increase in total employment in McAllen, materials presented to the board last week indicate, most of it in the service industry.
Both the McAllen and Pharr Economic Development Corporations have partnered with the college to help shepherd the training program to an actuality.
“ If we have maquiladoras grow by training their employees, and thus increasing their efficiencies and output— that’s gonna help the Valley,” Margo said. “Because I’d say manufacturing and just business in general on both sides of the border, business and manufacturing communities are intrinsically connected.”
The program, Margo said, will also benefit the college more directly.
“ We see it as a growth strategy for the college as well,” he said. “A strategy to help us increase enrollment for the college overall, increase revenue, increase capacity.”
Relatively few hurdles remain in the program’s way.
Margo said some curriculum still needs to be translated, insurance acquired and contracts finalized before the training goes live.