The School Zone: News

Sen. Alvarado at Guthrie Center

 

A Texas senator with a plan to create an industry-supported apprenticeship grant program within the Texas Workforce Commission to train students for high-need occupations found a success story in Spring Branch ISD’s TRIO electric program at the Guthrie Center campus.

First-term Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Democrat who represents Houston’s 6th District, toured the district’s Guthrie Center and Electrical Tech student training lab there on Jan. 15. The district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE)-focused Guthrie Center supports the 3-year-old TRIO Pre-Apprenticeship Program.

Locally based TRIO Electric has partnered successfully with the school district and Houston Community College to educate and support three separate cohort-years student groups. This year, about 100 juniors and seniors representing all of SBISD high schools are enrolled.

TRIO’s first student cohort graduated in May 2019, and 74 percent of students in the program attained a Level 1 Electrical Helper certificate from HCC. Half of that same cohort won TRIO Electric job offers. As rising juniors, eligible students were offered paid summer TRIO internships, too.

“I am excited to see the success of this program,” Sen. Alvarado said after viewing the classrooms and training spaces at the Guthrie Center, the district’s central site for a variety of student CTE programs. 

“Jobs like these are very important. You are contributing to make Texas and the greater economy better,” the state senator said. She notes that Texas rates No. 1 in job creation by meeting business and industry needs, including the workforce.

Speaking to students in an electrical program classroom, she noted that college or university enrollment is not for each and every high school graduate.

“[College] might not be for you. I get great satisfaction from knowing you will gain satisfaction from doing something important like this,” she told students. In Texas today, many technical fields including electrical services have more openings than qualified applicants.

Sen. Alvarado, who previously served in the Texas House, is co-author of bills that would provide monetary incentives through the Texas Workforce Commission for apprenticeship programs. This legislation (House Bill 2784/Senate Bill 1576) has just started to generate interest, and supporters believe that successful, stand-alone programs like the TRIO pre-apprenticeship model will help to spark more interest and support.

TRIO Electric’s president and CEO, Beau Pollock, told Sen. Alvarado and leaders from HCC and SBISD gathered at Guthrie Center that his company is one of the few to put together a public school district and community college partnership. 

SBISD Board of Trustees President Pam Goodson and Trustee Chris Vierra were among more than a dozen officials who gathered for the state senator’s visit.

Under the partnership, students can elect to work for TRIO or follow a program path leading to journeyman certification, or even possible college-level degrees related to electrical engineering.

“Win! Win! Win!” Pollock proclaimed. “We do know that all students may not have clear options available to pay for college. We asked, ‘How do we partner with a school district that is helping push many – but not all – students to that college level?’ . . . I had a vision, and all the people here [at the Guthrie Center meeting] helped me make it happen.”

“This school district has been unique,” he also said. “The Guthrie Center really understands that traditional college is not the only path.”

When asked by Sen. Alvarado why they elected to join the TRIO pre-apprenticeship program, one student piped up with a one-word response: “Money!”

Since 2017, TRIO’s pre-apprenticeship program has expanded into Austin and Grand Prairie ISD, and Texans Can and Premier High School charter programs. TRIO leaders believe student enrollment will double again this fall.

Sen. Alvarado said that the TRIO program partnerships were “what I’ve been envisioning” related to business/industry cooperation with public education.

During group discussion, one observer noted that Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, may be following successful programs like the TRIO Electric initiative. In general, the Trump administration has voiced support for similar school-based CTE and workforce initiatives.