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Montgomery College, Willis ISD Collaborate to Provide Career Training For High School Students

It’s a reality that many high school graduates bypass college and go right into the workforce, lacking necessary skills and oftentimes being forced to survive on minimum wage.

Proper training in a number of areas can translate into a great career with excellent pay for these students, and a new pilot program between Montgomery College and Willis Independent School District hopes to provide them with just that.

“Willis ISD is aware that there are students who may not be planning on attending college after high school and that they need job skills to obtain employment that allows them to receive a livable wage for themselves, for their children, or to help their families who may be employed in a low-wage occupation,” said Bill Chapman, Willis High School associate principal. “To date there hasn’t been much done to serve this population and so we approached Montgomery College to develop a plan to help us help these students.”

“Career training is very specialized and is very expensive when you consider the equipment and the space needed to provide this type of training,” said Chapman. “We knew that Montgomery College had an excellent program in place and we knew that together we could come up with a great plan to serve our high school students.”

At its Lone Star College–Conroe Center, Montgomery College offers several workforce skills awards, which are training programs for increasingly popular and well-paying careers in the automotive, welding, HVACR, electrician and machining technology, said Linda Head, dean of academic and workforce support.

Jennifer Roberts, program manager for school partnerships at Montgomery College, said developing the program just “fell into place” because of the mutually advantageous results.

“We feel like we are leading the charge and are being progressive about how we can help these students earn workforce skills award certificates that can translate into an excellent career and future,” said Roberts. “This is great for WISD, for Montgomery College, and for the economic development of the community.”

The partnership will allow Willis ISD students to receive free training to obtain a workforce skills award certificate in one (or more) of four specific areas: welding, machining, certified nurses aide/phlebotomy, and HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration). The students--who will travel to the Lone Star College–Conroe Center to receive training for two hours a day during regular school days--will also concurrently receive high school credit.

“It will also introduce these students to the college experience, which may result in them continuing their education further,” said Roberts.

Chapman said the program will be paid for in part by government Career and Technology Education funds. WISD will provide transportation, course tuition and fees, textbooks, and course supplies, while Montgomery College will provide instructors, equipment, and classroom space.

“It really is an excellent program and we are thrilled to be able to offer our students this opportunity,” said Chapman. “They will be receiving training for careers that they can be in for the rest of their lives--at almost no cost to them.”

According to Dr. Roberto Rodriguez, director of the college’s Lone Star College–Conroe Center, a workforce skills award in welding from Montgomery College costs approximately $2,300 for paying students and can yield $13 an hour upon entry into the field and up to $28 an hour, said Dr. Rodriguez. A machining workforce skills award costs approximately $750 and those starting out in the industry can expect to make $15 an hour and earn up to $32 an hour as they advance in the field, he said.

Students for the WISD/MC workforce skills award program go through a rigorous application process.

“We have very strict application guidelines,” Chapman said. “We looked at attendance and grades and the kids that we have selected really want to be in the program and we really want them to be there. They are getting free career training and receiving high school credit for it and so it is essential that we have the best candidates for the program.”

The pilot will serve seniors in high school, but Chapman said the plan is to extend the program to juniors in the future. Additionally, Montgomery College administrators hope to add other area school districts to the program in the future.

“This is such a great way for the college and the local schools to come together for a win-win situation,” added Dr. Rodriguez. “We want to help as many students as possible move toward careers that will give them a solid future.”

Montgomery College is located at 3200 College Park Drive, one-half mile west of Interstate 45, between Conroe and The Woodlands. For more information about the college, call (936) 273-7000 or visit montgomery.lonestar.edu.

North Harris Montgomery Community College District, among the largest and fastest-growing community colleges in Texas, comprises North Harris College, Kingwood College, Tomball College, Montgomery College, Cy-Fair College, six satellite centers and The University Center.