Adult Learning

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Whether it is to get a better job or change career paths, adult education courses are in constant demand and the offerings are evolving throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

When we hear adult education, it is easy to think of only GED certificate courses — General Education Development. And while these are still prevalent and needed, along with English as a second language and civic courses, there is growing emphasis on career pathways that lead to well-paying jobs.

“We want to ensure that we are connecting people at every opportunity,” said Shelly Sanchez, community engagement deputy director for Workforce Solutions. “We want to ensure that if we do any type of investment in training, they are in these target occupations to give individuals the opportunity for jobs … and great projected salaries.”

Workforce Solutions receives applicants with all levels of education, Sanchez said. Some might need only English to put their skills in practice here in the U.S., while others need at least a GED to get started on a new career path.

“Our career counselors at the workforce centers give them that type of guidance,” she said. “We try to connect them with job readiness classes, with jobs through referrals, we create training opportunities … but if they are specifically trying to grow their education level and language acquisition, we rely heavily on our partners.”

One of these partners is Region One Education Services Center, which services Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties through 45 education sites.

Aside from GED and ESL courses — which are offered as either basic courses or for professionals — these sites offer the targeted courses mentioned by Sanchez.

There are more than 40 targeted occupations that are identified in biannual industry studies. These range from customer service to web developers and pharmacy technicians. The idea is to survey the needs of the industry and focus the resources in career paths that are in demand and that offer competitive pay.

“Personally speaking, as a former school administrator and working in rural communities, there is a great need out there,” said Maria Gonzalez, adult education program director at Region One. “We are here to help you change your mind and help you get where you want to go.”

Region One also relies on other partnerships to offer specialized certificates or degree-leading courses in these in-demand areas.

Some of these degree-leading courses and certificates are offered through South Texas College, which has a wide array of career paths to fit students needs and go beyond a GED.

“If you are taking a ESL class, or a GED preparation class, you can also train to be a phlebotomist, Microsoft specialist, or forklift operator,” Gonzalez said. “And STC is in the process of creating three or four new classes that will start in April and May.”

The center also offers entrepreneurial courses for those who want to start their own business and it is starting a program called Integrated Education and Training. This is intended to get these adults the skills they will need to hit the ground running in the workplace.

This works for companies that have a large amount of non-English speakers who require specialized training, or those who need added training to help their current employees grow with the company rather than seeking new hires.

“For example, if (a company) brings in a consultant to train employees on how to operate new machinery, but it’s in English, we can help you by providing an ESL instructor free of charge to help train your employees in this equipment,” Gonzalez said.

The overall goal is to help these adult learners not stop at a GED or English class for lack of resources, but to provide them tools to help them grow within their current job or in a new career.

Once somebody applies for even the most basic programs, they are also offered orientation to help channel them in a career path that fits their interest and that can help fill the demand in the area.

“We are here to help you change your life and go in the direction that you want to go,” Gonzalez said. “Whether it is to get an industry recognized certificate or go on to post-secondary education.”