Workforce Solutions: Need for Valley Skilled Workers Expected

Posted: Updated: Jan 02, 2018 06:55 PM

BROWNSVILLE – Cameron County currently has an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. An official for Workforce Solutions in the county said there are major industries looking for skilled workers that could help lower that number.

Workforce Solutions executive director Pat Hobbs is in the business of putting people to work.

He said with LNG companies zeroing in on the Rio Grande Valley, the need for skilled workers, like pipefitters and welders, is in the thousands.

La Feria native Jason Medina left his profession as an emergency medical technician for something a little more rugged. He’s now a pipefitter working Houston.

“This is a job that allows you to work with our hands and think with your head, and you can travel the country. You can travel the world in this industry,” he told CHANNEL 5 NEWS.

He said the pay is often more than what a four-year college graduate makes.

“The average welder, pipefitter – traveling ones like myself – your pay can vary from $75,000 to $120,000 at the end of the year,” he said.

Medina said most Valley workers in the oil field are forced to work in areas like Corpus Christi and Houston, where there’s a big demand for skilled workers.

Hobbs said that need might soon come down to the Valley.

“If you have a skill set that can make somebody money, then you’re probably going to have a job,” he said.

The problem is, according to Hobbs, is that the Valley does not have the number of skilled workers that these companies need. He said the biggest unemployed sector are those of 35 years and older, without a learned trade.

“We pushed everybody towards a four-year degree. We stopped teaching the technical skills in high school, no more career and technical educations programs and it hurt us in the long run,” he said. “Now, we don’t have a qualified, technically-trained workforce to supply the labor that some of these industries are going to require.”

Hobbs said with the strong possibility that more than one LNG company will come to the Valley, he’s working with local school districts and technical colleges to make sure they train people here and put them to work.

“The demand is going to be tremendous. We need to put the carrot out there to the upcoming high school graduates. That these types of jobs are going to be needed,” he said. “Number one, they’re going to pay a high salary, more than what we are used to. And if you want one of those jobs, here’s where you go to get the training to be ready to take the jobs.”

Medina is a member of a Local Union 211 in Harlingen. He said that’s where he learned his trade as a pipefitter. He said those looking for a career change can also train now for the hundreds of jobs that will be available.

He also said there are several welding schools and technical colleges, from Brownsville to McAllen, that also offer some courses.

“This blue collar is no longer the blue-collar trade. As far as income goes, it’s very rewarding,” he said. “And the Valley needs to step up. The Valley needs to realize what is to come and we need to prepare for it.”

Hobbs said the number for just two processing plants for one LNG company means the need for:

  • 649 carpenters
  • 515 electricians
  • 35 instrumentation workers
  • 275 ironworkers
  • 400 laborers
  • 223 mill rights workers
  • 225 operators
  • 450 pipefitters

He said some of these skilled programs can be completed in as little as one to two years.

Hobbs said the prediction is that 60 to 80 percent of jobs in the future will not require a four-year college education, but most will require a certification above high school.

As of now, three LNG companies are vying for the Valley. If they all come here, Hobbs said it’s going to mean thousands of jobs will be available.

To contact Workforce Solutions Cameron, please call Business Service Supervisor Dee Saenz at (956) 423-9266 ext: 4449.

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