"This is the culmination of a 10 year discussion," said Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor of Economic and Workforce Development at Alamo Colleges, moments before signing a memorandum of agreement between Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas (TMMTX) and the community college district.
The agreement officially announced Friday initiates the new Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician program, a two-year associate degree that, Zargaroza said, "Will produce the world class technicians to fill the gap (in the manufacturing economy)."
"This is not a problem that only San Antonio has," Zargaroza said. "We've lost a layer (of workers) ... There is a national need for muli-skilled, highly trained technicians."
Numbers vary, but the President's Jobs Council estimates there are 3.3 million job openings in the U.S., in part because employers can't find qualified workers, "especially in technical fields." Toyota has created several AMT Programs in partnership with community colleges across the nation, in West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentuck
"(Real-world) experience is integrated into the (AMT) program," said TMMTX President Chris Nielsen, allowing technical workers to bypass several years of on-the-job training to graduate students already trained and ready to fill advanced positions in manufacturing. Three days a week, students will be at the Toyota Manufacturing plant acquiring the experience they need, Nielsen said.
And, Nielsen said, they'll be getting paid. Toyota will pay students an average of $30,000 over the two-year program, essentially canceling out most student loans – an attractive prospective to many students struggling to finance their higher education.
The announcement came just days after Mayor Julián Castro's State of the City address, where he praised workforce development initiatives amd singled out initiatives launched by the Alamo Colleges and its Chancellor Bruce Leslie.
"2013 needs to be the year where we recognize that San Antonio must close the skills gap if we want to succeed in 21st century industries like aerospace and automotive manufacturing and the new energy economy and informaiton technology. We have to collaborate and have one primary effort: to ensure that there is a talented pipeline of young people who are ready to take on those jobs of the future ... No employer (should) ever have to wonder if they're going to find the skilled workforce they need, because they're going to get it right here in San Antonio, Texas."
More than 60% percent of jobs require some form of higher education, Castro said, whether it's a four-year degree at a university, a two-year associate's degree , a trade certificate or technical training.
Dist. 19 Texas State Senator Carlos Uresti thanked the company for its "huge (positive economic) impact to our community."
Sen. Uresti said the partnership between public education and the private sector is the main ingredient to a healthy, well-paid, workforce – "not just for Toyota" but for current and future manufacturing companies in San Antonio.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also spoke of the importance of these partnerships, adding that efforts are underway to attract more manufacturers to San Antonio. Though he did no specify which companies San Antonio was courting, he did say, "Unfortunately, our bid (to those prospective companies) had to include recruitment efforts" to find workers from outside of San Antonio to work at their plants.
Once more programs like these are offered, he said, San Antonio won't have to pull from other areas to find skilled workers who can pass a drug test. The new program, he added, provides one more "additional pathway" for young adults who graduate from high school.
"The reality is that not everyone will go (or wants to go) to college," said Texas House Speaker Joe Straus after the press conference. "This is a program that will, hopefully, guide those students towards another, highly-skilled, path. And these are good, high-paying jobs," Straus said.
Though new education programs are key to workforce development, there are some ways in which the current education system puts up barriers for students that aren't "headed to college," Straus said, referring to House Bill 5.
"In no way are we (backing) away from high standards of education (in high schools)," he said, "This bill provides for more flexibility and simplicity for curriculums and (standardized) testing ... it's a delicate balance."
"It's about solving what the community wants (and) needs in the future," Byrd said. "This (program) will drive the economy and create opportunities for young people – another great tool to get us where we want to be."
And if Toyota decides some day to expand its manufacturing operations in San Antonio by adding a second production line and a new model vehicle, the Alamo Colleges will have a program in place to train workers to meet new demand.
Related Stories on the Rivard Report:
San Antonio: Growth in High-Tech is on the Horizon February 2013
Healthcare and Biosciences: Invest More to Grow Faster December 2012