Three weeks ago, Delyssa Gonzalez was still working as a home health provider with limited prospects for advancing past the $10 hourly wage and with a 2-year-old son at home to care for.

However, in January Gonzalez enrolled in electrician’s training offered by VIDA, the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement, which improves her prospects considerably.

Already, she’s gotten hired early as an entry-level electrician’s helper working for a company out of Mission at $12.19 an hour.

VIDA funds the program through grants from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., and Texas Workforce Commission. It is taught through a cooperative agreement with Local 1015 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers out of McAllen.

“I’m very pleased with the support that they’ve given us because that gentleman that comes from McAllen puts in a full day in McAllen, drives to Brownsville and teaches from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and then drives back four days out of the week. That’s passion for teaching others what they know. The first group that graduated in December is already working.”

Companies are “seeing the value in the skill set that (the students) leave here with,” Ramos added. “We’re very proud of this program. We’re very proud of our students. I’m looking forward to four years from now seeing how many licensed electricians we’re going to have. I’m looking forward to it.”

Gonzalez said she enrolled in the program Jan. 11 and is learning more than expected. While she expected to learn how to bend conduit pipe, wire three-point and four-point saddles, and do a box offset, there are other more subtle things on-the-job training teaches that can’t be learned in the classroom.

“It did change my life. I go to work with a smile on my face, and I come home with a smile on my face,” she said.

Delyssa Gonzalez checks her angle as she carefully practices bending electric metal tubing into a 4 point saddle configuration Tuesday during her weekly electrician’s classes through VIDA at the Ozanam Center’s ATEC building.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Ramos said the program aims to assist people who are underemployed or unemployed and have family responsibilities.

“We use a career pathway model that focuses on demand occupations. … I’m the case manager for this group and I meet with them on a weekly basis to help with career management and job placement success.”

Ramos said the program is broken up into chunks. “Students come in for four months and do their first level of training, focused on commercial electricity. They come in and they get certified for safety using the NCEER curriculum, a globally recognized certification,” he said.

“They get certified for safety and commercial electricity Level 1. They also get OSHA 10 certified and do the national electrical code book. The total for the first level is 280 hours and that allows them to come in at an entry level position and start working after four months. … They go in as a helper on the commercial side.”

Delyssa Gonzalez grabs her gear from the trunk of her car Tuesday as she heads into one of her weekly electrician’s training classes through VIDA at the Ozanam Center’s ATEC building. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Ramos said commercial electricity refers to anything between 240 and 600 volts and applies to any building used by the public, such as schools, banks, strip malls and other uses.

After two years working under the Level 1 certification, “once VIDA is done they have the opportunity to come on and become a member of IBW. VIDA gets them through two years, but the state requires four years for journeyman certification,” Ramos said.

“That’s the beauty of this program. They come in and they’re training and then they have the opportunity to become Level 2 apprentices with the IBW. What’s the benefit of that? They’re going to get a 401-k, an annuity and insurance. It’s a very well established partnership model. We did our homework. We’re dealing with people’s lives and families. We’re serious about what we do, so the pathway is there if you’re serious about this career pathway then you have all the help you need to become successful.”