RED OAK

Bronc Stewart spent the past five years in the infantry unit with the U.S. Marine Corps. When he returned to civilian life, Stewart realized he did not have a skill-set to pursue a career.

The 23-year-old Red Oak graduate quickly found his path in education at Texas State Technical College in the diesel technology program and will graduate in 2020 with an associate’s degree and specialized training.

“When I got out, I realized I didn’t have any transferable skills from the warfighting world to the civilian world, so I figured I needed to find a place where I can work with my hands cause that’s what I’m good at,” Stewart explained.

Stewart is just one of the many students enrolled at TSTC in Red Oak, which fuels the middle-skilled workforce with technicians who earn level one and level two certificates of completion and associate degrees in applied science. Middle-skill jobs require a high school diploma and some post-secondary education and training.

Research conducted by the National Skills Coalition in 2015 found that “key industries in Texas are unable to find enough sufficiency trained workers to fill these jobs.”

Red Oak TSTC provost Marcus Balch agreed this would be the most recent data and ensured the programs offered at the local campus aim to satisfy that gap.

The study also found the demand for middle-skill jobs to be quite strong, with 56 percent of all jobs in 2015 classified as middle-skill in Texas. Low-skill jobs encompassed 16 percent of the workforce, and 29 percent are high-skill positions.

While middle-skill jobs account for 56 percent of the Texas labor market, only 42 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle skill level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The National Skills Coalition reported the demand for this level of job would maintain strong between 2014 and 2024, with roughly 50 percent of job openings expected to be classified as middle-skilled.

DEVELOPING THE CURRICULUM

To meet that need into the future, the TSTC advisory board regularly meets to receive updates on the needs of the current workforce and layout plans for curriculum.

There are currently 10 career pathways offered at TSTC; however, the logistics program is in its final semester. Balch ensured current logistics students would complete the program.

“With logistics, there’s plenty of opportunity for employment out there with very good wages right now," Balch explained. “So much so with a three and a half unemployment rate right now in the area, your giants in the field like Amazon, they are hiring people at $15, $17 an hour that have no experience.”

Student demand for the field has diminished, which resulted in the program being cut by the advisory board.

Balch said the program will not be replaced, but instead, funds and space from logistics will be invested in the HVAC program. HVAC students currently work in a 3,000-square-foot facility that is compact with equipment to train students. The program will relocate where logistics is held in a space larger than 7,000 square feet.

The industrial maintenance career pathway has the most students enrolled at 70 and will spill over in the previous space utilized for HVAC.

“Industrial maintenance is larger because we have a strong partnership with Gerdau in Midlothian,” Balch noted. “We do train about 40 of their employees.”

Michael Boone, a 40-year-old Gerdau employee, worked on an electrical post and noted he enjoys learning something new.

“Seventeen years working at a steel mill and I get to learn something other than making steel,” Boone said.

He desires to pursue a career in the electrical field so that he can be closer to his home and family in Temple. Boone is set to graduate in December.

TSTC also offers workforce development opportunities that design specific training for a company if it receives a new piece of equipment. A curriculum can be created and taught in one day or one week.

FUNDING THE WORKFORCE

According to Balch, TSTC indeed has the best interest for its students, and it is proven through the system of how it receives funding from the state — the returned-value formula. This system is different because it is designed to demand and reward results.

“Under the innovative leadership of our chancellor, TSTC basically said, 'Let us put our money where our mouth is. There’s a critical shortage of technicians across the state. Pay us based on the performance and placement of our graduates,'" Balch said.

Once a student completes nine credit hours at TSTC or earns a certificate or degree, their earnings are tracked through the Texas Workforce Commission for five years. TSTC is then paid a percentage of what that graduate earns financially by the state.

TSTC reported the average first-year salary for a graduate at the Red Oak campus is $39,542. Balch noted that, generally, salaries rise each year with experience gained. This average includes those earning a one year certificate or a two-year associate's of applied science degree.

“If we have a student that graduates and doesn’t go to work, we don’t get a dime reimbursement from the state,” Balch elaborated. “So, we have a very invested interest making sure that we are connecting our students to employers and not just a run of the mill job either, but the best job we can possibly put them in.”

Balch explained other junior and small colleges, such as Navarro College, receive funding from the state based on the number of enrolled credit hours per student.

The returned-value formula is designed to provide more funds to the college compared to the standard higher-education model. TSTC reported first-year average wages of associate degree and certificate graduates increased by six percent in five years. The number of graduates found working increased by 32 percent as well.

In 2014-15, TSTC earned $90 million and received that amount from the state. The following year, $94 million was earned and received.

"The 85th Legislature did not reward TSTC's extraordinary performance as the formula should have dictated," read a TSTC document. "Instead, the Legislature effectively reduced TSTC's commission rate and kept the college's formula funding level."

In 2018-19, TSTC should have earned $121 million but was awarded $94 million, and the commission rate was reduced from 36 percent to 28.

TSTC initially operated as 10 different institutions across the state and around 2013, it reorganized under one umbrella. Being a statewide institute, allowed curriculum to shift from campuses based on need and local economies, have more brain power and stay relevant.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450