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April 2009


Skills Development Fund: What Is It?

The Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills Development Fund supports the growth of Texas businesses by helping Texas workers acquire new skills or upgrade existing skills to advance their careers. A business, consortium of businesses or trade union identifies a training need and then partners with a public community or technical college to develop a project to fill that need.


Who’s Been Trained?

1996-2008:

  • 3,263 employers
  • 76,191 new jobs
  • 132,439 incumbent workers retrained
  • 208,630 total trained

Fiscal Year 2008:

  • 148 employers
  • 7,984 new jobs
  • 11,705 retrained

Source: Texas Workforce Commission

Skilled Labor

Community colleges turn funds into technical training for Texas workers.

by Gerard MacCrossan

From the age of five, the place where Texans go to learn is the classroom.

In the world of work, not everything can be learned on the job. The Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Skills Development Fund (SDF) program and community colleges around the state have enabled thousands of workers to return to school each year to learn new concepts and techniques in the classroom.

Many companies get by with in-house training, but for some Texas industries, updating existing skills and training dozens or even hundreds of new hires quickly and efficiently requires outside help.

Moving Texas’ Exports and Imports

At the Port of Houston, the 2007 opening of the Bayport Container Terminal created almost 500 openings for dockside workers. A $987,600 SDF grant teamed the West Gulf Maritime Association (WGMA) and the International Longshoreman’s Union with San Jacinto College to offer additional training to more than 1,600 workers, says Sherry Jones, executive director of the Continuing and Professional Development Division at San Jacinto College.

“We worked with companies and consortium members to find out what their needs were,” Jones says. “We identified the right people with industry expertise to serve as instructors to teach the workers.”

“There was a wide variety of training, everything from someone just coming into the industry to supervisory training,” says Nathan Wesely, WGMA vice president and general counsel.

Training and experience are important dockside since jobs are allocated at the union hiring hall. Seniority and skills certification will give port workers higher-paying work.

Wesely says finishing high school is not a prerequisite for working on the docks. Entry-level workers come in at $10 per hour; for experienced workers, pay can range up to $30 per hour. Under the SDF grant, new hires received basic training to get them to the point they could be productive, Wesely says.

“Safety was important. There were classes on how the industry works and what they’d be expected to do,” he says. “Then there was training on equipment, top loaders, truck driving – a wide variety of different equipment.”

Making Sure Industry Operates Safely

Industry-specific training is a key component of the services provided by many community colleges in Texas, particularly for manufacturing operations working cooperatively to train workers at different companies throughout a region. While San Jacinto’s grant to train maritime workers concluded in early 2008, more than 1,200 inspectors working at manufacturing firms in the Houston area are being trained with a $3 million Texas Workforce Commission grant.

Non-destructive testing (NDT) is a specialized skill is important in assuring the safety and reliability of industrial products and services. Joe Sanders, a NDT and radiographic testing supervisor based in Pasadena with Turner Industries, says certified training is becoming more important. NDT technicians aspire to become inspectors, he says, and the API-certification training has helped the existing work force advance.

Training is being conducted in conjunction with the Association of Plant Inspection Professionals. By the end of 2008, 560 existing workers and 665 new hires had completed the program, Jones says. Technicians and inspectors work in a wide range of industrial environments including refineries, plastics, oil and gas, paper and pulp manufacturing.

Instructor David McGrath of Pasadena says it pays to continue training in the testing and inspection industry – jobs that don’t require a college degree. He estimate that 5 to 7 percent of new trainees come in with bachelor’s degree in NDT, metallurgy or mechanical engineering.

“The majority of them, probably 90 percent, are high school-educated only,” he says. “We also focus on training competent inspectors – not just being able to pass the test – to ensure more reliable equipment,” McGrath says. “More reliable equipment means a safer work place and fewer incidents.”

Making the jump from technician to inspector is a financially attractive proposition. An NDT technician typically earns $18 to 22 per hour, while entry level pay for an API 510-certified inspector is $42 per hour.

Sanders says the training is both valuable and attractive to potential employers. “A lot of the people who were in the field were self-taught technicians,” he says. “Training was so expensive that not many people had it. I’d be more apt to hire someone with classroom training than self-taught.

“If you’ve a good head on your shoulders and good work ethic, this is a perfect career for anyone out there who hasn’t got a way of going to a good college,” he says. “It’s a less expensive way of securing a rewarding career.” FN

San Jacinto College’s continuing education division works with industry to provide job-specific training. Find out more at www.sanjac.edu.

The WGMA offers benefits, training and payroll services to maritime companies on the Gulf Coast. Find out more at www.wgma.org.

The Association of Plant Inspection Professionals promotes education and communication among industrial safety professionals. Find out more at www.apip-usa.org.

For more information, on the Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills Development Fund visit www.twc.state.tx.us/svcs/funds/sdfintro.html.

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