A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Brazosport College: Partnering With the Community for the Area’s Future [VIDEO]

The industrial construction renaissance underway along the Texas Gulf Coast brings all sorts of workforce challenges – and educators and industry leaders are working overtime to meet them head on.  Construction Citizen’s team recently traveled to Lake Jackson to check out programs offered at Brazosport College, where they’re stepping up to meet the demands of an estimated $25 billion in industrial construction projects in southern Brazoria County over the next few years.

You read that right: $25 billion in industrial construction is expected in just the southern portion of this geographically isolated county in the next several years.

Anne Bartlett, Brazosport’s Vice President of Industry and Community Resources, holds a unique position.  She is able to cobble together multiple funding streams to make it possible for students to enter the workforce quickly with needed skills.  “We're taking folks who've been on welfare and now they have this awesome job,” Bartlett said with pride.  “It's a life transformational thing that is helping our community as a whole because we're putting more people into the situation where they can be good citizens.”

The Jumpstart program at Brazosport is one way the demands of industry are being met.  Art Longoria is the Project Manager for grants associated with the program and said the initiative has come a long way since it began about two years ago.  “We’ve got it down to a science now,” Longoria said with a smile.

The nine-week program allows students who truly apply themselves to quickly become pipefitter helpers, millwright helpers, or electrical helpers.  “We train folks who qualify under the grant requirements which are pretty strict,” Longoria said.

Students in the program take a course called Introduction to the Construction Industry and craft-specific courses in pipefitting, millwrighting, or electrical.  “They also get a Marketable Skills Award from Brazosport College if they pass,” Longoria said.  There is also an eight-hour hazard awareness course along with math and reading.  “This hazard awareness class is very good for folks who have never been in the industry,” he said.

“Volunteers from Dow Chemical and elsewhere are regularly at the school to help students succeed,” Longoria said.  “There's a lot of people working to make this program successful.”

Case Manager Rolanda Rushing works with students one-on-one to keep them on track while they balance their coursework against everything else going on in their lives.  “There are a lot of challenges in their personal lives that they just don't know how to balance,” Rushing said.  Transportation and child care can be huge obstacles even for students who work very hard.  “That can just knock them out for a whole day,” she said.  “We just have to kind of grab them by the hands and take baby steps and try to get them there.”

You can listen to Longoria and Rushing discuss the Jumpstart Program in the following 5-minute video:

“The teaching philosophy at Brazosport is focused on the people involved, not solely the information conveyed to students,” said Jeff Detrick, Dean of Instruction.  Detrick pointed to several instructors on campus as prime examples.  “Mick doesn't teach machine technology.  Mick teaches people,” Detrick said.  “Buck doesn’t teach pipefitting.  He teaches people.  Our job in education is not to get up there and spew knowledge.  That has nothing to do with it.  It's about growing individuals,” he said.  Listen to Detrick’s comments about teaching philosophy in the following 1-minute video:

That philosophy was on full display in the classroom of Monty Payne, who has spent decades in the construction industry along the coast working for virtually every contractor in the area.  He’s now giving back to the community by working as an instructor.  Payne was kind enough to give the Construction Citizen team a tour of one of his hands-on pipefitting labs.  Pointing to his students, he said “These folks are up to the challenge.”

“They actually have to build a pipe that goes to equipment,” Payne said.  “It's not just something they do on paper.  It’s the full real deal.”  Listen to more in the following 2-minute video:

There would be no way for the community college to do all this without partnering with various non-profits.  Meredith King is Co-Founder and Executive Director of True to Life Ministries, where she said part of the mission is “to help them get unstuck.”  The focus is “moving people out of poverty, overcoming homelessness, developing healthy relationships and healthy lives,” King said.

“That part of our work is why we ended up partnering with Brazosport College,” King said.  “They wanted the folks in the Jumpstart program to know how to actually get the job.  Money doesn't solve all their problems,” King said, adding that “pretty much every Jumpstart student has gotten a job, but we're able to help them after the fact and put all the pieces together in their lives.  That's really fulfilling.”

Find comprehensive information about the Jumpstart program at Brazosport College and about True to Life Ministries on their respective websites.