Construction trades training moves workers into jobs

November 13, 2018

The building trades program at the Cameron County Education Initiative is making good on its promise to provide job-ready skilled workers for Brownsville area businesses.

CCEI is the trade school associated with OP 1033, the education, training and job creation philanthropy founded by Brownsville native Mike Hernandez in 2016.

The school at 3140 E. Ruben Torres Blvd. in Brownsville is turning out a new group of trained workers every few weeks through cooperative agreements with area builders and Workforce Solutions Cameron, the local arm of the Texas Workforce Commission.

TWC grants and funding from OP 1033 allow the trade school to provide various training programs tuition-free, executive director Rita Hernandez said.

“ They send their experts to us so we’re giving them exactly what they need,” she said. “Their experts tell our instructors what to teach.”

The program has worked out well for three Brownsville residents who were looking to get into the construction industry and said the training they received jump-started their careers. All three went right to work as soon as they had finished the training.

Juan Manuel de la Garza, 19, who has worked in construction alongside his father, said he was able to get the certifications he needed and learn important new skills through the program. He went to work for Harlingen-based SpawGlass Contractors as soon as he had finished the training.

“ I learned metal framing, how to paint, a little bit of everything, how to use power tools,” he said. “I’ve done this with my dad, but I wanted to get with a big company to get experience so later on I can open my own company.”

Dan Cameron, project manager with SpawGlass, said De la Garza had the kind of attitude his company looks for.

“ With a program like this we get future employees that have skills,” Cameron said. “With Juan, he knew framing, drywall, how to tape and float. When I heard his story at the job fair and how hard a worker he was, I wanted to give him a job right away. He’s been a real go-getter. … We’re just really happy with the experience. The students learn skills at this school so that they’re not 100 percent green coming into the workforce,” he said.

Jose Luis Trejo, 29, now with Weslaco-based Noble Texas Builders, said he found out about the CCEI program through Workforce Solutions Cameron. When he struggled to make it to class some days because of car trouble and lack of gas money, Hernandez got him a part-time job at a McDonalds to make ends meet.

A 2011 charter school graduate with some college, he said he eventually wants to go back to school and study architecture.

“ We’ve been very impressed with his professionalism and drive,” the company said in a statement. “Mr. Trejo has been able to jump right in on our project at Juan Diego in Brownsville.”

Gerardo Morales, 19, dropped out of Porter Early College High School as a junior but is completing his diploma through home schooling, and is projected to graduate in December.

He said his family is close friends with Scott Shull, a longtime project development manager with Brownsville builder Ziwa Corporation, who hooked him up with the building trades program at CCEI.

Shull said Morales came into the program completely cold but was able to get his OSHA certification, meaning he had an understanding of the most important concept on any job site: safety.

“ The skills are very highly valued to get into the field,” Shull said. “The training improves the safety probabilities 100 fold.”

Hernandez said about 20 prospective building trades trainees are completing the interview process for the program. A new cohort starts classes Monday at zero cost to the student, she said


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