Typically, when you land your first serious job you feel grateful someone wants to hire you—even if your salary requirements and expectations aren’t all that incredibly high.
Also, typically, when you hear the term ‘bootcamp,’ connotations of rough military training, heavy boots, intense drills, camouflaged faces and threatening drill sergeants come to mind.
When Jared Stephens attended his first bootcamp in Mission, Texas June 2017—there were no hard boots or roaring drill sergeants. In fact, the experience was entirely pleasant and life changing—enough to later catapult him to a position on an international cyber team with a leading Fortune 500 company.
“I didn’t know I could get paid to be a hacker one day,” said Jared. “In fact, I didn’t know there were jobs such as ethical hacker and penetration tester in cybersecurity. I now know the certification the bootcamp offered makes a difference to the international clients we work with.”
In an industry that is growing exponentially, in retrospect, if Stephens is testimony to anything it’s that cybersecurity bootcamps can potentially solve the problem of a severe shortage of core technology workers in cybersecurity IT and advance your career.
Today, employers across Texas and the United States are seeking thousands of core technology workers in cybersecurity to fill current and future staffing needs. In 2016, tech industry employment in Texas grew by more than 11,000 jobs, according to CompTIA’s Cyberstates 2017 report. Even with this new hiring, employers posted job openings for more than 42,600 tech occupations in Q4 2016.
In 2017, the U.S. employed almost 780,000 people in cybersecurity positions, and hosted approximately 350,000 cybersecurity openings, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
According to the Labor Market and Career website, information security analysts’ employment rate is expected to increase in Texas by 32 percent and the average annual Texas wages is $92,891. Move to the Capital Area, Rural Capital, Deep East Texas or the Gulf Coast and that salary average increases to $100,000 plus.
After bootcamp and certification, Jared Stephens received an offer letter from Booz Allen Hamilton in March 23, 2018. It read, “At Booz Allen Hamilton, we’ve got a lot of technology, talent and resources, but we’re missing something. You.” Stephens was offered a full-time senior consultant position in San Diego, California as a Cybersecurity Tester with a handsome compensatory starting salary, and told that he would be “an essential part of [their] mission to leave the world a better place.”
How did 24-year-old Jared Stephens find himself in the lucrative field of a cybersecurity IT related career? The answer lies partially in a cybersecurity bootcamp connected to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
In Summer 2017, Jared attended a cyber bootcamp connected to a High Demand Job Training (HDJT) state grant provided by the Mission Economic Development Corporation (Mission EDC) in partnership with Workforce Solutions, the local workforce development board (WFS), CompTIA and TWC. This grant was part of a statewide effort to support collaborations between Workforce Solutions partners and local economic development entities to create occupational job training programs to improve the skill sets of individuals for jobs in high-demand occupations in Texas communities.
“This bootcamp was focused on filling a need in professional certification of IT workers in cybersecurity,” said Alex Meade, Mission EDC CEO. “The demand for certified workers encompassed and continues to encompass all industries in IT departments and companies that provide IT services to businesses both large and small.”
Obviously, there was a recognized need to provide the availability of IT related bootcamps to residents in the Rio Grande Valley. This partnership program provided a total of 40 participants who met WIOA basic eligibility requirements with a rigorous 8-week cybersecurity bootcamp utilizing a new partnership with CompTIA.
“This kind of collaboration provides high-tech customized training for high-demand cybersecurity careers while increasing business’ competitiveness in the global market,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “I couldn’t be happier for Jared Stephens, and his cohort. He’s a credit to the program and a testimony that camps like this really do work. I look forward to eventually meeting more individuals like Jared who have been given the same chance and opportunities in other cities along the border.”
Jared’s real interest and passion for cybersecurity and coding, meanwhile, started with video games and a game entitled ‘Call of Duty.’ It was through ‘Call of Duty’ that Jared first witnessed unethical behavior, adversaries and computer hacking. He wondered what else one could do with signed code?
“I observed what these hackers were doing and wondered how they were doing what they were doing,” said Jared.
It would lead to his becoming a Computer Science college major for a period at Texas A&M in 2012.
Though he left college before graduating, he remembered his “Call of Duty” days and unethical hacker friends and was determined he could make a lot of money writing code and program—which led him to major in Computer Science and minor in Physics. Having left college without a final degree, Jared eventually applied to bootcamp to gain the certification he knew would help his own sense of duty.
Certification does matter. As part of the summer boot program, Jared and his cohorts completed a series of CompTIA vendor-neutral skills certifications for technology professionals that are widely sought after by companies all over the United States and the world. All cohorts and participants received the CompTIA series of professional certifications, including A+, Network+, Security+, and Cybersecurity Analyst+ certifications at graduation which ensures they are more than a little marketable.
One grant, multiple benefiters. There were 39 other fellow classmates who benefited from the grants. Jared stated that one of his fellow cohorts—Amy Martínez-Nagy—who he has remained friends with—also started as a vivid enthusiast of video games as he did.
“Initially, Amy struggled in bootcamp at the beginning because most of it was new to her,” Jared stated. “She never had any cybersecurity experience previous like I did, but now she works for the City of San Juan in IT as a Level II specialist. This camp was really great for her.”
As cybersecurity threats grow both in numbers and in risks they pose to organizations, the plan is to help build capacity in South Texas so that future cybersecurity certification boot camps such as this one may continue.
All we can say is we’re impressed with Jared Stephens and with these grants that support organizations like Mission EDC and CompTIA—where do we sign up?
Work experience equips you with certain soft skills such as effective communication, time management, and problem solving, all of which are sought after by employers.
Last year Colton Head learned these soft skills while working at H-E-B in Austin. This year, Colton and other students in Texas will receive paychecks again by participating in Summer Earn and Learn, a program that provides students with disabilities, aged 14-22, with work-readiness training and paid work experience. The program is a partnership between TWC, Texas Workforce Solutions Offices and Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS).
Colton started gaining work experience in the 2017 Summer Earn and Learn program through Workforce Solutions Capital Area. While working at H-E-B, Colton provided customer service, stocked groceries and retrieved carts from the parking lot. Colton said the positive experience he gained motivated him to participate in the 2018 program.
“H-E-B was my first job, and when I started working, I was nervous. But after a few days, I quickly learned how to complete my job duties,” said Colton. “It was a great experience to learn about working and receiving a paycheck.”
Later this month, Colton will know more about his 2018 employment placement. He hopes the job will relate to his career interest of photography. He recently completed photography and digital imaging classes at Austin Community College. To hone his skills, he’s been volunteering to take photos for family and friends.
“I’m trying to get into the habit of taking my camera with me wherever I go, because my mom constantly stresses the importance of always being ready for your career goals,” said Colton.
Though he knows his summer will be busy with work and photography, Colton is confident he will be successful and cites the support of his mom and TWS-VRS counselors as motivators.
“I just really appreciate people who take the time to help you, to make you feel comfortable,” he said.
Last year, more than 1,500 students participated in Summer Earn and Learn and worked in positions as assistant graphic designers, customer service representatives, peer counselors and others. Small and large businesses who participated in the program include Alamo College in San Antonio, the Clements Boys & Girls Club in Killeen and CVS, H-E-B, and Verizon locations throughout the state.
Workforce Solutions Offices are actively reaching out to students, parents and employers to spread the word about the 2018 Summer Earn and Learn program and encourage participation. Informational efforts include:
Workforce Solutions Borderplex — Newspaper ads, television and media announcements; informational brochures for students and employers; social media blasts
“I don’t know how to two-step, but what I do know how to do is work together, and you know when you two step you have a partner. And so, it’s no good for me to just be the left leg if I don’t include the right leg. And so, what we are doing here, when we do the two step, we’re in unison, we’re working together.”
When a state agency and its program officers from Austin take the time to travel to rural areas across South Texas and listen to locals, communities, employers, individuals and stakeholders, the agency benefits with greater understanding, deeper insights and more valuable perspectives about the people it serves.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is more accessible than most people may realize. Through more than 200 Workforce Centers and satellite offices across the state of Texas, and 130 Vocational Rehabilitation field offices, TWC connects job seekers and employers with workforce development services and training — but TWC wanted to hear directly from multiple stakeholders: Local workforce boards, employers, economic development corporations, independent school districts superintendents, trainers, counselors, non-profits, chambers, elected officials and constituents. That’s why TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez and TWC staff representing several TWC programs embarked on a South Texas listening tour, April 9-13, 2018.
Where Did We Go?
The group visited six specific Workforce Board regions: Lower Rio, South Texas, Cameron County,Coastal Bend, Alamo and Capital Area Workforce Development Areas taking along staff from TWC’s Skills Development Fund; Vocational Rehabilitation program; Apprenticeship program; and Adult Education and Literacy program. City stops included Brownsville, Laredo, Corpus Christi, San Diego, San Antonio/Hondo and Austin.
Why Did We Go?
Listen and learn from rural communities. Allow stakeholders to tell their stories, share their struggles and their successes.
Build strong relationships with rural communities and determine how to work together as a team with workforce development and training services in mind.
Educate on our workforce and training program staff, generate new interest from individuals we might not normally hear from, and bring better services.
Exit with takeaways to use as next action items.
“The primary goal of our tour was to help people feel heard, educate them on our workforce and training programs, generate new interest from individuals we wouldn’t normally hear from, bringing better services to local communities,” Commissioner Alvarez stated. “Having a transparent and informative conversation is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your program.”
Commissioner Alvarez explained that many Texans cannot afford to make it to Austin to discuss their workforce development experience and needs, and that others may simply be unaware of what TWC services are available.
Since TWC staff fielded so many questions about essential programs, we asked the staff to offer an overview of major TWC programs:
1. The Skills Development Fund is Texas’ premier job-training program providing local customized training opportunities for Texas businesses and workers to increase skill levels and wages of the Texas workforce. The Texas Workforce Commission administers funding for the program. Success is achieved through collaboration among businesses, public community and technical colleges, Workforce Development Boards and economic development partners.
2. Adult Education and Literacy providers are organizations with instructors delivering English language, math, reading, writing and workforce training instruction to help adult students acquire the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, earn a high school equivalency, and enter and succeed in college or workforce training. TWC contracts with a wide variety of organizations to provide AEL instruction and promote an increased opportunity for adult learners to transition to post-secondary education, training or employment.
3. The Vocational Rehabilitation program helps people with disabilities prepare for, find or retain employment and helps youth and students prepare for post-secondary opportunities. The program also helps businesses and employers recruit, retain and accommodate employees with disabilities. The program serves adults with disabilities; youth and students with disabilities and businesses and employers.
4. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced journey workers with related classroom instruction. Most registered apprenticeship training programs last from three to five years as determined by industry standards.
While there were multiple questions asked at the Texas Southmost College, one major realization realized from the overall discussion is the severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” in the area and the need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close those gaps as soon as possible.
This conversation was followed by attendees of the Labor Boot Tour learning directly about customized training through our Skills Development and Apprenticeship teams discussing TWC programs.
Commissioner Alvarez noted that worker training is the key as the Rio Grande Valley transforms from an agricultural economy to an advance manufacturing, aerospace, maritime and LNG economy.
Invited stakeholders included Career & Technical educators, college tech-ed officials, Economic Development Corporaitons, and the Port of Brownsville–all of whom gave brief presentations of what they are working on, and the need for continued TWC funding assistance to be successful–particularly increased JET funding for the next biennium.
An overall realization demonstrated was the severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” in the area and the need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close those gaps as soon as possible.
“All-in-all, [today] was enlightening to a large and varied audience, and the resulting sense of urgency to continue building CTE capacity in our schools and colleges was an overriding outcome. We sincerely thank Commissioner Alvarez and his staff for their dedication and availability, and appreciate their passion for what they do for the great State of Texas.”
In Mission, Texas, the Two Step Tour participants were hosted by Workforce Solutions-Lower Rio Grande, and began with an in-depth tour of Royal Technologies, an advanced engineering and manufacturing company that services diverse industries.
Highlights of the tour included viewing how automation and robotics are used by companies such as Royal Technologies, to create labor costs efficiencies, and how a manufacturing company serves both automobile and technology markets in North America and Mexico.
The tour was followed by a stakeholder meeting at South Texas College Technology Campus in McAllen, for the larger group Q&A discussion where Commissioner Alvarez, and TWC key staff from Austin, provided stakeholders pertinent information about programs and services available to the region.
TWC staff engaged in one-on-one discussions with stakeholders representing economic development corporations, business, education and community based organizations.
Mission’s Key Economic Development Drivers:
Maximizing and leveraging partnerships and information to better serve individuals with disabilities.
Development of innovative partnerships and programs through apprenticeship programs: TWC’s Desi Holmes answered various questions regarding apprenticeship programs and shared best practices (as seen across the state) in efforts to create programs that enables individuals to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.
Overall, creating responsive programs to meet the needs of business.
“The Texas Workforce Commission Texas Two Step Listening Tour hosted by Workforce Solutions-Lower Rio was an enormous success and beneficial to our community stakeholders. Perhaps the most notable experience for the attendees was that TWC key staff and subject matter experts were so readily available to respond immediately to stakeholder questions and offer additional resources and information to pursue programs, services and grant awards available through TWC. The real-time technical assistance was invaluable for those in attendance. TWCs responsiveness and availability equips our stakeholders to develop responsive solutions.”
— Arcelia Sanchez, Business Representative, WFS Lower Rio
The Boot Tour team visited Workforce Solutions Alamo on day four and hosted a listening session and invitation for questions.
San Antonio’s Important Topics:
Dr. Bruce Leslie, Chancellor, Alamo Colleges – provided an overview of Alamo INSTITUTES which consist of six categories: Creative & Communication Arts; Business & Entrepreneurship; Health & Biosciences; Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics; Public Service; and Science & Technology.
Pooja Tripathi, Project Coordinator – Workforce Services, Bexar County Economic Development Department and Mary Batch, Assistant Manager, Human Resource Development (HRD), Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc. – provided an overview of TXFAME.
David J. Zammiello, Executive Director Project Quest – provided an organizational overview. The mission of Project QUEST is to strengthen the economy by providing expert support and resources to develop a pipeline of highly qualified employees for in-demand occupations that offer a living wage, benefits and a career path.
Ryan Lugalia-Hollan, Executive Director P16 Plus – Mission statement is to ensure that all young people in Bexar County are ready for the future. Programs designed to help youth understand and master the concepts and challenges of basic personal finance investments in programs to build a pipeline of STEM-capable students.
Steve Hussain, Chief Mission Officer, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy – Goodwill San Antonio’s goal is to provide an educated workforce empowered to reach their career and life goals and achieve self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. Particularly focus on empowering individuals who face barriers in gaining employment by providing education, training, career services and robust service coordination.
Juan Antonio Flores, Executive Vice President, Governmental Relations, Port San Antonio –provided an overview. Home to over 70 tenant customers who directly employ about 12,000 fellow citizens.
David Meadows, City of San Antonio Economic Development Department (EDD) – provided an overview. Development of Workforce Development Division. EDD has funded workforce agencies for many years but only started developing policy around workforce development over the last couple of years.
The second portion of the tour took place at Accenture Federal Services (AFS). Ali Bokhari, AFS Delivery Network Director, Accenture Federal Services, provided an overview and tour of the facility. Romanita Mata-Barrera, SA Works, was able to join the group and partake in the discussion.
Accenture’s Important Topics:
Vocational Rehabilitation – discussion regarding the partnership Accenture Federal Services has developed with Texas Workforce Commission Vocational Rehabilitation San Antonio location regarding the employment of people with disabilities. This is an ongoing partnership with not only TWC Vocational Rehabilitation staff but also WSA staff.
On-the-Job-Training – discussion regarding how AFS and WSA are collaborating in providing OJT noting obstacles that have been encountered.
Apprenticeship – AFS provided a review of their in-house apprenticeship program.
This portion of the tour brought the team back to the Board Office.
Carolyn King, Director Grants and Clinical Education Operations, Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio provided an overview of the various initiatives Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio has utilized focusing on TWC grant funding. Mark Milton, Senior Director of Workforce Operations, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy was also in attendance.
Some of the Items Discussed:
Retention opportunities utilizing Goodwill, Project Quest as well as Alamo Colleges.
Interview Skills, helping students determine the best fit. Interviewing with numerous departments at the same time. This has been successful for not only the students but the respective supervisors.
Mark Milton, Senior Director of Workforce Operations, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy provided the tour. Steve Hussain, Chief Mission Officer welcomed the team to Good Careers Academy.
Some of the items highlighted were the classroom, as that particular Good Careers Academy hosts students from Fox Tech High School.
Hondo Mayor James Danner, and Jesse M. Perez, of the City of Hondo, Economic Development Department, provided an overview of workforce initiatives in Hondo/Medina County.
Hondo Key Economic Development Drivers:
In 2013 the City of Hondo initiated discussions with Goodwill Good Careers Academy to bring CNA course and other technical courses to the STRTC. And agreement with Hondo High School and Goodwill was created to offer CNA to Hondo High School Seniors.
In 2014 Concordia University began offering a Master’s Degree for teachers and BS Degree for Teachers’ Aides seeking to become teachers.
In 2016 the City of Hondo Economic Development Corporation (COHEDC) approved $285,000 to renovate 5,000 sq. ft. of vacant space into an allied health training suite and create two additional multi-purpose classrooms.
In 2016, the City of Hondo and COHEDC submitted a request to the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a $960,000 grant with a $240,000 local match to build an annex for vocational/technical courses. EDA approved the grant request and are in the process of making arrangements to build the annex.
In January 2016 WSA leased space to provide workforce development services in Medina County at STRTC.
In 2017, together with WSA and Southern Career Institute (SCI) CNA courses were offered to adults. SCI provides the instruction. WSA provides funding for qualified adults.
The final day of the Boot Tour culminated in a listening session with Workforce Solutions Capital Area staff and local stakeholders.
Learnings & Takeaways
“Commissioner Alvarez: Having traveled through several regions and multiple cities on tour, what did you learn? What seemed significant? Were there any major takeaways for you?”
“Those are good questions. TWC went on tour to listen and learn from rural communities. This was an opportunity to allow stakeholders to tell their stories, share their struggles and their successes. I think what really stood out about the tour for me is how much our services here at TWC have had such an impact on so many lives, communities and the economy. For example, I knew TWC makes a difference and that TWC-TWS workforce and development training programs and services have the ability to change lives, but it’s different seeing that in person. I knew our grants really trained people but it’s different seeing it up close and personal. That really hit home for me having had the opportunity to tour and witness first-hand a high school with 400 students on the receiving end of a JET grant. It was very powerful. And the students were equally as enthusiastic about sharing how it has changed their lives.
These students are experiencing the newest and latest welding methods due to one grant with the end result being that industry are hiring many of them right out of high school. And that’s success, right there. That’s a significant takeaway. And sometimes the results speak for themselves.
A secondary purpose for the tour was to build strong relationships with rural communities and determine how to work together going forward as a team with workforce development and training services in mind. On that note, I feel the tour was successful in that we successfully brought Austin to communities that can’t afford to travel to Austin to meet with our agency directly. Many who attended these stakeholder meetings and discussions were employees of non-profits while others ran agencies with limited resources.
Finally, I’m glad to be part of such a great agency and work alongside individuals who truly care about what they do and the people they serve. Another purpose for the tour was for us to educate on our workforce and training programs, generate new interest from individuals we might not normally hear from, and bring better services. This tour allowed me a second opportunity to to experience how professional and knowledgeable our TWC staff actually are, how passionate they are about their programs and educating others, and how much they want to help others which is the essence of bringing better services.
I’m glad for some actions items and takeaways. And finally, I’m glad to be part of such a great agency.”
Additional Takeaways and Future Action Items:
Takeaway 1 – Target “Skills Gap”: The severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” demonstrates a strong need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close gaps as soon as possible. Several communities spoke of the sense of urgency to continue building Career Technical Education (CTE) capacity in schools and colleges. TWC should also address how to help colleges work better with one another to build capacity and provide training for each other.
Takeaway 2 – More TWC Outreach: Multiple individuals and communities are unfamiliar with TWC programs and there exists a strong need for greater awareness. TWC needs to better educate what TWC programs can offer. This tour demonstrated the fact that certain folks do not know what an Adult Education Literacy program entails, or how Skills Fund works, or who the Vocational Rehabilitation program touches or affects — or how apprenticeship programs can change young lives. (If people were truly surprised to learn that we provide workforce training in addition to basic education and English, TWC realizes there are many other services delivered that individuals are not aware of or familiar with so greater education and more awareness is needed.)
Takeaway 3 – Expand VR Awareness: There is a need for greater discussion regarding the partnerships developed with Texas Workforce Commission Vocational Rehabilitation regarding the employment of people with disabilities. This is an ongoing partnership with not only TWC Vocational Rehabilitation staff but also WSA staff in certain regions. Maximizing and leveraging partnerships and information to better serve individuals with disabilities is essential.
Takeaway 4 – Share Apprenticeship Best Practices:TWC heard of a greater need for development of innovative partnerships and programs through apprenticeship programs. There is a need for further discussion on shared best practices (as seen across the state) in efforts to create programs that enables individuals to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.
Takeaway 5 – Be Responsive to Local Business Needs: TWC heard throughout the tour of the need to continuously create responsive programs to meet the needs of business areas visited – there is a realization that each region and city have their successes and their own needs. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. TWC needs to take time to determine local needs.
Takeaway 6 – Reduce Confusion Over VR Services: Because of the vast array of services offered by TWC (with each of these individual programs taken on tour), TWC is a full-service program for job seekers and employers. Certain questions asked to full audiences came from local Work Force Solutions staff wanting to understand the services provided by the boards and how to access them for VR customers. It demonstrates a need to educate at all levels on the full reach of TWC, boards, and their contractors. More education and awareness for VR programs is also needed. The other TWC programs are provided through grants to boards, schools, training centers etc. VR services are provided directly to the individual with a disability. There is sometimes confusion over how VR services differentiate from other TWC services.
Takeaway 7 – Continue Visits with Local Stakeholders:Having traveled through six regions with TWC’s programs, TWC now has a better understanding that the true worth of the work TWC does and the programs managed that can only be fully appreciated when one is able to see the results and the impact our services our work has on the lives of people and businesses across the state. TWC program managers must engage in field trips in the future to better understand the impact of the programs TWC manages across the state.
Takeaway 8 – Expand Outreach about Skills Development Fund: Each day of the tour TWC was asked about the Skills Fund Program. All areas and regions indicated a strong interest in the Skills Development Fund. TWC was able to discuss how it feels it has made a commitment to developing strong relationships at the local level by locating a Regional Staff person in the area. Unfortunately, TWC learned that many businesses and other partners often do not know that this person is there and that the person is a member of the state office team assigned to assist them in benefiting specifically from the programs and services TWC provides.
More Photos from the Tour
Click on the image to navigate through the slideshow:
Once a volunteer and now the newly appointed Executive Director for FIRST in Texas, Patrick Felty has seen FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the K-12 hands-on robotics program grow so fast, only a programmed algorithm could have predicted it.
“The opportunity to continue to help grow FIRST programs in Texas and work with our great FIRST leadership across the state is what drew me to work for FIRST in Texas,” said Felty. His background in management, operations, and sales help support his passion for giving back to his community. Prior to becoming the Executive Director, Patrick served as the Development Director for FIRST in Texas and the Regional Director for South Texas (Alamo Region). “My approach to the role as the Alamo Regional Director was to focus on the overall growth of robotics teams, events, and expand on the four programs in the region,” he said. “As the Executive Director of FIRST in Texas, our goals are much the same, to provide a life-changing experience for our participants and establish a foundation of support for FIRST programs for the next generation of innovators.”
Founded in 2010, FIRST in Texas 501(c)(3) is the Texas-based partner of FIRST, the worldwide nonprofit organization. Its vision is that every Texas student has an opportunity to participate in one of the four K-12 programs available through FIRST.
Since the Texas Workforce Commission partnered with FIRST in Texas, it has provided funding to support thousands of aspiring students to be future leaders by engaging them in exciting, mentor-based programs that promote innovation, build interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, and foster well-rounded work/life skills. “When FIRST in Texas started our relationship with TWC, Texas only had a few hundred teams across the entire state with only a few thousand students involved. This year we are proud to say that with the support of partners like TWC, we now have more than 2,900 teams in Texas and which impacts 28,000-plus students,” said Felty.
For its part, TWC supports youth education programs that prepare students for high-demand careers in the workforce through its partnership with after-school STEM programs, like FIRST in Texas.
An example of a collaborative education and workforce partnership is the relationship between FIRST in Texas and the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas (TMMTX) facility in San Antonio. FIRST teams are developed and supported in the schools surrounding the facility, which results in FIRST students from those schools making up a large percentage of the TMMTX Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program’s classes each year since its inception.
“As the students progress through the AMT program, they are often offered employment positions at Toyota,” Felty said. “Many of those employees have now become mentors for FIRST teams and are continuing to help grow the local economy.”
It is clear these valuable relationships are key to the future success of Texas youth. FIRST in Texas and TWC provide valuable tools that enable youth to participate in STEM programs, which cultivates a more technologically advanced workforce and contributes to the state’s growth.
“The state of Texas is in a position of economic growth through technology and innovation, but we need programs like FIRST to help inspire our students to become the knowledge workers of the future to keep the momentum of economic growth moving forward for future generations,” Felty said.
According to FIRST, a 10-year evaluation demonstrated that students who participate in FIRST are:
2X more likely to major in science/engineering in college,
Up to 91% are more interested in going to college, and
At least a third of female students major in engineering.
As further proof that support for hands-on learning activities in robotics continues to grow, the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL) has officially sanctioned competitive robotics as an academic sport in public schools across the state.
The grant provided by the TWC continues to serve as an opportunity to help develop new high school aged teams in the State of Texas. “The greatest need is support for teams coming from under-served or financially limited communities or teams who reside in communities where FIRST programs are not as well established,” Felty said.
Through the partnership with FIRST in Texas, TWC is able to provide opportunities for all youth to learn STEM and soft skills through their participation on robotics teams while gaining valuable hands-on experience in a competitive environment at statewide competitions.
More than 1,200 Texas middle and high school students will display their outstanding projects at the 2018 Texas Science and Engineering Fair. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) continues its commitment to the success of tomorrow’s workforce by co-sponsoring the event with ExxonMobil for the 17th consecutive year. The fair, which is being hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center from March 23-24, 2018 in San Antonio.
As a community supported event, the science fair relies on professionals in the science and engineering fields who generously volunteer their time to this event and who are vital to its ongoing success. The fair is currently seeking judges for the junior and senior divisions for 22 project categories. Judges are responsible for evaluating and scoring student projects and providing encouragement and constructive criticism.
“I am very excited to present at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair this year. More importantly, I am honored to be one of the judges that gets to support the next generation of scientists. I encourage my colleagues from the STEM community to join me on Saturday, March 24th,” said 2018 TXSEF Keynote Speaker, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, a lecturer and director of demonstrations and outreach with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.
As a part of the judging process, judges will meet and interview regional science fair finalists and provide encouragement to students pursuing future science, technology engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This event offers professionals from a variety of STEM fields a rewarding opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of these talented young people, while also highlighting their professions. Volunteer judges interact with the brightest young scientific minds in Texas and the future innovators of our nation.
Individuals interested in judging can apply on the Texas Science and Engineering website. There are three types of judges for the Texas Science and Engineering Fair: Fair Award judge, Blue Team Award judge and Special Award judge.
Fair Award Judges
Fair awards judges volunteer their time to evaluate projects throughout the fair. Fair award judges are assigned to a specific number of projects based on experience and qualifications in their field of expertise. The fair judge will select first choice, second choice, etc. from one of 17 categories. Each judge will be assigned a category on site during registration.
Blue Team Award Judges Blue team award judges will select Grand Prize and Best of Show winners from amongst the winners of the individual fair categories who were determined by fair award judges. Blue team judging will begin once all fair award judging is completed and results have been tallied.
Special Award Judges
Each year over 70 professional organizations, representing a wide variety of disciplines, affiliate with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) as special award sponsors. These governmental, industrial and educational organizations recruit their own special award judges to evaluate projects that meet the specific criteria of their awards. Special award judges represent a professional society, company, industry, or the military and have been specifically asked to evaluate projects that will receive scholarships and awards from external organizations. Judges review specific projects in relation to their organization’s scholarship or award.
Winners from the science fair’s senior division will qualify for the Intel ISEF competition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May 2018 and will also earn a spot at the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a weeklong residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which will be held this summer at Southern Methodist University. Past winners from this event have gone on to win top prizes at ISEF, visit the White House and attend prestigious universities across the country. The Texas Science and Engineering Fair is officially sanctioned by the Society for Science & the Public, the annual host of ISEF.
For more information about the Texas Science and Engineering Fair visit www.txsef.org.
As students in high school and college begin their search for internships for the summer and fall, Texas’ Tri-Agency partners continue their work through the “Texas Internship Challenge” to help bolster the opportunities available for young people.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) joined forces to establish the Texas Internship Challenge, a statewide campaign first launched in 2017 and now relaunched in 2018, challenging industry and employer partners to increase and promote more paid internships for Texas students.
The program also challenges Texas colleges and universities to grant academic credit for and promote internships to students, and challenges students to apply for and accept internships.
TWC has created a website, TXInternshipChallenge.com, where employers can post internships and students can apply for them at no cost.
“Internships provide invaluable mentoring which positions our students for future success by increasing their skills, awareness and work-readiness for Texas careers,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Internships present employers with a unique opportunity to raise students’ understanding of their industry and can serve as a launch point for recruiting a future worker. I challenge Texas employers to join the Texas Internship Challenge and help the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of occupations available to them in the Texas economy.”
Through the Texas Internship Challenge, the Tri-Agency partners are addressing a workforce need which it has heard frequently from employers: That students need to learn/acquire workplace skills. Internships help students learn workplace skills, introduce and expose students to the state’s in-demand industries, and help students be more competitive for a job search. One of the four goals of the state’s 60x30TX strategic plan for higher education is for students to have identified marketable skills. These skills are acquired by students through education, including curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities such as internships.
Employers gain potential full-time employees that can be recruited directly from qualified interns, as well as exposure for their company and their industry’s in-demand occupations. Internships have become an important part of upward mobility for future job seekers—60 percent of employers prefer work experience gained through an internship or professional experience.
On Feb. 5, the Tri-Agency partners met in Austin with industry and education stakeholders to discuss expansion strategies for the Texas Internship Challenge. Chairman Alcantar, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth Ruggero Hughs and TWC Labor Commissioner Julian Alvarez were joined by executives from Lockheed Martin Corporation, Accenture, JPMorgan Chase, among other industry and education leaders to discuss specific goals on internship expansion strategies, which include stressing the importance of internships, examining different strategies to grow internships and listening to ways the program can expand outreach.
“We must ensure that every child leaves high school prepared for success, whether they choose to attend college, enroll in the military or enter the career field,” said Commissioner Morath. “The Texas Internship Challenge provides every high school student in Texas the stepping stone to a bright future of opportunities.”
“Working with the business community to create more paid internship opportunities is one of the most promising strategies we can offer for students, especially for the more than 60 percent of poor kids in Texas,” said Commissioner Paredes. “These students have to earn income to make their way through college. Paid internships get them into business networks, help them find a job after college, and help them acquire the marketable skills they need to get those jobs. This supports our 60x30TX marketable skills and student debt goals, and enables Texas employers to promote jobs in their industries to our future workforce.”
“In our meetings across the state employers expressed the need to have a talent pipeline equipped with work-based learning experiences. Internships will prepare students with skills to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” said Commissioner Hughs. “I applaud and continue to challenge Texas employers in helping the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of opportunities available to them in a growing Texas economy.”
“Internships not only provide important work and life experiences for students, but also set them up for future workplace success,” said Commissioner Alvarez. “The Texas Internship Challenge will help link learning in the classroom, create relevance between the different subjects studied, and help all students develop the skills required for future occupations.”
The agencies encourage internship programs as a bridge for students to explore in-demand industries and occupations. Students will benefit from mentoring, career guidance, identification of marketable skills, and learn about high-demand occupations. Employers will benefit from the opportunity to explore candidates for full-time recruitment and leverage the developing skill sets and perspectives of students, while also highlighting careers in their industries.
Teenagers and young adults who want to jump-start their careers can benefit from Pathways to Careers, a Texas Workforce Commission initiative to expand pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities. These career-focused services will include work opportunities, such as internships, apprenticeships, summer employment and other job opportunities available throughout the school year.
The first Pathways to Careers program is Summer Earn and Learn which will launch statewide this year. The program will provide 2,000 students with disabilities with work readiness training and paid work experience. The 28 Texas Workforce Solutions Board Offices, in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions– Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS) staff will implement the Summer Earn and Learn program and coordinate the skills training and paid work experience.
The Boards will identify business partners and pay the students’ wages. Local TWS-VRS offices will assist with recruiting students and providing case management services.
Workforce Solutions Gulf Coast is partnering with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to launch a Summer Earn and Learn program.
“We’re pleased to partner with HISD in providing summer jobs and career exploration for students with disabilities,” said Gulf Coast Executive Director Mike Temple.” We truly appreciate HISD’s commitment to the future for these young adults.”
Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County is partnering with its local schools and Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth to implement its summer program.
“In addition to Goodwill, other employers we’ve reached out to include CVS Pharmacy, Klein Tools and the City of Mansfield Park and Recreation” said Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County Executive Director Judy McDonald. “Helping students with disabilities gain work-related knowledge and skills is extremely important, and we want to enlist the support of as many employers as possible.”
Other Pathways to Careers programs are still in development or preparing to launch and will expand upon Pre-ETS and career-related education to students with disabilities. Read more about those programs in future editions of Solutions.
Creating a learning environment similar to the real world helps jump-start students’ skill sets toward a career in nursing, welding, electrical engineering and software development. To help create these simulated environments, TWC’s Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grants support career and technical education programs in high-demand occupations by defraying the equipment costs for the classrooms.
Laredo Community College (LCC), a JET grant recipient, is a two-campus district serving more than 12,000 students each year through a variety of academic, technical and vocational programs. The school serves many more through its adult education and literacy, continuing education and economic development courses. LCC’s Health Sciences Division prepares graduates with skills needed for employment in the nursing and health science fields. LCC purchased high-tech equipment, including SimMan, SimMom and Sim Junior patient simulator manikins, for real life medical scenarios in preparation for employment in the nursing field.
“With the purchase of these manikins, our nursing department can continue in its mission of providing a topnotch education that will strengthen our medical community by graduating highly skilled nurses,” said LCC President Dr. Ricardo J. Solis. “These state-of-the-art educational tools help ensure our students remain at the head of the pack in such a highly competitive field.”
LCC Associate Degree Nursing students, Monica Colchado and Cynthia Aguilar noted that the equipment gives them an opportunity to experience real hospital emergencies.
“Since no two patients are the same, the simulations have become an excellent tool to provide insight to differences in symptoms, sounds and level of care for a specific health care need,” said Colchado.
“Also, working in the simulation area gives us the flexibility to make mistakes and learn from them,” said Aguilar. Simulation rooms enable students to be highly trained and learn to provide the best care to a patient in a life-threatening situation.
“Students are able to perform a variety of skills and develop their critical thinking skills in a safe learning environment,” said LCC’s Nursing Programs Director Dr. Dianna Miller.
In addition to defraying the start-up costs associated with the development of a career and technical education program, JET funding focuses on projects that target high demand jobs in new or emerging industries.
Waco High School’s (WHS) Automotive Tech program received a JET grant and purchased shop equipment, such as air compressors, toolboxes, tools and new lifts so that the program meets the certification for dual credit with Texas State Technical College. The philosophy of WHS technical programs is to prepare students for a future well-paying career by providing them with the most up-to-date, industry recommended equipment and curriculum. WHS prepares students to be workforce ready and the district provides the local industry with a trained, ready-to-work qualified employee.
“The updated equipment helps the kids have a taste of what they would be using in the real world of automotive repair,” said WHS Automotive Tech Instructor Mark Penney. “They can go out and begin using their knowledge on the job or continuing their education.”
The real-world experience students receive through simulation classrooms not only prepares students for a high-demand job, but helps in determining their career path. The JET grant program allocates $10 million for the FY 2016 – 2017 biennium for eligible educational institutions through a competitive process. During the first year of funding in 2016, 25 grants totaling nearly $5 million will provide training in high-demand occupations for at least 5,394 students. During its second year of funding, 26 grant recipients received funding to train an estimated 4,900 students.
When Antonio Haddon started participating in (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) FIRST Robotics, he never knew he would develop such a passion for learning.
“What I like most about robotics is building the robot, driving the robot and working together as a team while we cheer each other on.”
Haddon, a senior at Sunset High School in Dallas drives robots as a part of team RoboFlash 6751, the first robotics team to be comprised of students with disabilities. The students competed at the Dallas Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) on March 8-11 in Irving and won one of their matches.
In 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) supported 270 FIRST teams across the state through a grant totaling $1 million to the FIRST in Texas Foundation, inspiring nearly 4,200 students to be leaders in science and technology by engaging them in exciting, mentor-based programs that promote innovation, build skills for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, and foster well-rounded life skills.
Working in teams to solve complex problems and create a working robot, these competitions equip students with STEM applied learning opportunities.
“I felt that I gained a lot of respect from other teams,” said Haddon. “I proved to myself that I can drive in a robotics competition despite my disabilities.”
TWC supports youth education programs that prepare students for high-demand careers through its partnership with after-school robotics programs. Support for hands-on learning activities in robotics continues to grow as shown by the University Interscholastic League’s decision to officially sanction statewide robotics competitions.
“Students participating in the FIRST in Texas Robotics Competition at the University Interscholastic League (UIL) State Championship in Austin and at the International competition in Houston showcased their ingenuity, teamwork and prowess in STEM skills,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Texas employees and teachers who mentor these students are inspiring future Texas innovators by helping them develop and apply their programming, technical, engineering and other skills needed to succeed in the dynamic Texas economy. TWC is proud to support this successful and inspiring STEM strategy.”
FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The programs encompass age-appropriate, hands-on activities for K-12 students. “As the demand for qualified STEM professionals continues to grow for Texas employers, programs like FIRST Robotics give students a strong start,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “Through the FIRST grants, we are proud to lay the groundwork by providing opportunities for 4,190 students throughout Texas to gain new skills and real-world experiences.”
FIRST provides opportunities for all ages. Students ages six to 10 start with FIRST LEGO Leagues Jr., which introduces STEM concepts through LEGO elements. Students in 4th-8th grades can start FIRST LEGO League teams and are challenged to develop solutions to real world problems all while building and programming a robot.
High school teams compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FRC. FTC is considered the junior varsity level competition, where teams of up to 10 students receive a robot kit and are challenged to design, build and program their robots to compete against other teams.
FRC is considered the “ultimate sport for the mind.” It involves teams comprised of at least 25 students and adult mentors who must raise funds, design a team “brand” and build a robot to perform tasks based on real-world engineering challenges. Each season culminates with top teams competing at the FIRST Championship.
The RoboFlash 6751 team introduced students with intellectual disabilities such as autism, learning disabilities and Down syndrome to the competition and to apply their skills on the team. This special robotics program has helped bring awareness to providing learning opportunities for all students including individuals with disabilities and presents opportunities for companies to hire students as future engineers and computer programmers.
“TWC is dedicated to supporting FIRST Robotics as the positive impact this program has on Texas students continues to grow in innovative ways,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “The labor force of Texas must continue to innovate and programs like FIRST provide the training and skills our students need to compete.”
The results of a Brandeis University evaluation survey indicated that FIRST programs encourage participants to consider STEM-related careers. FIRST participants are two times as likely to major in science or engineering. Over 75 percent of FIRST alumni enter in-demand STEM fields as a student or professional after they graduate high school.
More than 1,200 of the best and brightest young science and engineering minds from across the state displayed their projects at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair (TXSEF) on April 1. The fair, which was hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), is co-sponsored by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and ExxonMobil.
Students competed in 22 life and physical science project categories. The top two projects in the life science and physical science disciplines earned first and second grand prize recognitions, and from among these winners, one individual in each division was selected for the Best-of-Show designations.
This year’s junior division Best-of-Show winner, Tatiana Streidl of North Texas Academy of Higher Learning Middle School in Frisco, earned the honor for her project on “Unplanned Ingredients Investigating the Chemical Transfer of Cl2 NO3 NO2 Cr6 CHO2,” which explores potential health problems in paper plates.
The senior division Best-of-Show was awarded to Kshitij Sachan and Yesh Doctor of Plano East Senior High School in Plano, who presented a project on “Site Specific Genomic Integration of Large DNA Fragments.”
The top two finishers in each category (51 students in total) at the TXSEF from the senior division were awarded scholarships to attend the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a week long residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which will be held at Southern Methodist University.
The Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy and the Texas Science and Engineering Fair are two of TWC’s many programs designed to encourage students to learn and participate in STEM activities to acquire the knowledge and skills to equip them for in-demand occupations.
TWC supports programs including robotics that encourage students to participate in STEM programs and pursue postsecondary degrees and careers in these in-demand fields.
Governor’s Summer Merit Program
This summer, Texas Workforce Commission awarded 18 grants totaling more than $1.26 million to Texas universities and community colleges for summer youth camps that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through the Governor’s Summer Merit Program. The grants provide the opportunity for 1,351 students, ages 14 to 21 to attend camps that will help prepare them for future high skill, high-demand jobs.
The Governor’s Summer Merit Program aims to inspire Texas youth to pursue STEM-related careers. The camps introduce students to future careers available in advanced technologies and manufacturing, aerospace and defense, biotechnology and life sciences, information and computer technology, and energy.
Several of the camps are specifically targeted to encourage young women and minorities to pursue further education and careers in STEM fields.
Some students will have the opportunity to take field trips that will give them access to high-tech equipment, such as 3-D printers and electron telescopes, while others will visit science and engineering facilities and have the opportunity to meet and speak with industry professionals.
Camp Code New for this year, TWC awarded eight grants totaling $599,681 for Camp Code to focus on increasing the interest of middle school girls in computer coding and computer science by providing summer camps. Camp Code will offer hands-on experiences that provide students with challenging and innovative concepts and experiences in learning, problem solving and analytical skills while fostering an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related careers with a focus on computer science.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, only 26 percent of employees in computer and mathematical occupations in Texas were women. The grants awarded to independent school districts, universities and higher education institutions are designed to spark girls’ interests in careers in computer programming from an early age, and for young women to consider careers in these highly sought after fields.
Camp Code provides students with activities and lessons that encourage their interest in high technology, such as working in teams to use programming languages to build games, web pages and robots. These activities can enhance girls’ interest in the industry and inspire them to pursue coding as their career.