The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement has proven to be a nimble workforce training program. In 25-plus years, it has been helping unemployed and underemployed residents land better-paying jobs.
It demonstrated that again recently when VIDA launched an electrician journeyman training program. Administrators at VIDA see the Liquefied Natural Gas project coming closer to reality at the Port of Brownsville. They recognize there is a growing market for electricians.
Getting the necessary training and licenses to reach the status of being a professional electrician is a lengthy process. The new VIDA program in that field covers at least two years of training and experience. There is also a pathway to two additional years of career preparation. It’s just one example of how Rio Grande Valley residents can use a VIDA program to secure rewarding careers.
“This is an opportunity for us to prepare our workforce to have the first shot at those jobs,” said Isidro Ramos, the VIDA workforce development manager.
Getting A Program Started
Ramos and VIDA staff are working with the first batch of students going through the electrician journeyman program. It’s an extensive program. There are more than 300 hours of training in addition to learning about OSHA federal safety laws and protocols. Students must also become familiar with the electrician code book. On-the-job training with local electrical companies is often in the mix. The end goal is earning the necessary certifications and licenses to become a fully-fledged member of the profession.
“We tell our students to go for training in a career and field they’re going to stick with,” Ramos said. “Right now if it’s in craft and trades like being an electrician or a welder, or a career in the medical field, there’s all kinds of opportunities if you get the necessary training and education.”
Since its inception in 1995, the Mercedes-based VIDA has helped more than 5,800 Valley residents gain better-paying jobs and rewarding careers in coming from lower income backgrounds where opportunities were limited. Ramos calls the better jobs “target-based occupations,” in that the regional economy shows a demand for those positions.
VIDA provides tuition assistance and financial support for child care and transportation to students. In return for the help, there is an expectation for a high degree of accountability. Each student also receives intensive case management attention from VIDA staff. This helps them with focus and motivation through the months of training and classes.
VIDA expects students to graduate on time from the institutions VIDA connects the students to – be it South Texas College, Texas State Technical College, Texas Southmost College, and the other higher education schools VIDA partners with in its training programs.
A Mutually Beneficial Return
The formula has worked as VIDA students have a 90 percent program completion rate. Then there’s the economic impact on the Valley economy. A study by the UT Rio Grande Valley Data & Information Systems Center showed that for every $1 invested in VIDA, there is a return of $14.74 to the communities served. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, per the UTRGV study, it meant the addition of 600 direct and indirect jobs in the regional economy and an added $8.8 million to the Valley economy. This also includes the state and local taxes VIDA graduates pay from their new jobs.
The VIDA organization is a non-profit which receives funding from Valley cities, economic development corporations, state grants, and funding from foundations with an eye for lifting people from poverty and low-income jobs.
“The best thing you can do is invest in people and see them succeed,” Ramos said. “We measure what we do and see it through with our students.”
The new electrician program is one of the more recent additions to VIDA. Its bevy of programs includes allied health such as nursing, and the specialized trades in welding and automotive technology. There are also jobs in criminal justice and law enforcement.
“Connecting Valley residents to employers and high wage jobs, one VIDA at a time,” says the motto of the workforce training program. The results of more than the last 25 years indicates it is doing just that for its students.