Harlingen is known as a medical hub in South Texas, and the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, and Texas State Technical College in Harlingen are rising to the occasion to provide a skilled workforce to fill those jobs.
“We have two hospitals and we have several behavioral health hospitals that also add to the demand for more trained healthcare workers,” said Raudel Garza, Harlingen EDC CEO. “Then there’s the UTRGV School of Medicine that’s producing some of the future doctors for this region, but those doctors need a lot of support. That’s really where we see the vacancies in job positions.”
Led by Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos, Harlingen CISD responded by reshaping how the district educates its students.
“We started this about five years ago where we realized that one of our underpinnings in HCISD was going to be health sciences,” Cavazos said.
The district is one of the few that has a medical high school. On this campus, students can choose one of six pathways of study, including dental, pharmaceutical, and biomedical research.
“All the way from Pre-K 3 all the way to a medical degree — all offered here and everything in between. Think about that,” Cavazos said. “It’s an incredible landscape that is filled with opportunities for growth and development.”
Likewise, Cledia Hernandez, TSTC provost, has kept her finger on the pulse of job demands in the area. TSTC offers LVN and LVN-RN programs, among others, and one of the latest cohorts had a 100 percent pass rate on a challenging exam.
“We’re very proud of what our students go through — they are very dedicated students,” she said.
Creating the educational opportunities to facilitate highly trained workforces — and bring employers into the area to hire them — is where the partnerships that Harlingen EDC, Harlingen CISD, and TSTC are working to form come in to play.
“We recognize in our respective areas that this is very important work that we’re doing and we can’t do it alone,” Cavazos said. “I often say that the kids are waiting for the adults to get it right. And it’s the adults that can bring the people to the table to develop the partnerships.”
At TSTC, partnerships come in the form of leveraging relationships with experts in their respective fields to help tailor training and programs for students.
“We have advisory committees for all of our programs made up of industry leaders,” Hernandez said. “These advisory committees are the ones that oversee and give guidance to our programs to make sure that the labs that we have in place, the machinery that we have in place, is up to par and relevant to what they’re requiring in their industry.”
This close collaboration also extends to RGV school districts like Harlingen CISD to pave the way for students to arrive at TSTC prepared.
“We partner with not only employers but also with ISDs to make sure that that pathway that they’re coming to our institution is seamless,” Hernandez said. “So how can we better align? How can we be able to collaborate and make sure that they’re already coming in with the necessary skill sets that they need?”
The desire for meaningful change to provide excellent resources for students is also apparent at Harlingen CISD.
“Partnerships are valuable, but it also showed us that opportunities are out there if you want them,” Cavazos said, highlighting Harlingen CISD’s early college high school program with TSTC. “From that partnership stemmed the courage, the boldness, the appetite to transform our school district. When you think about that, when the adults get it right, and you’ve come to the table, what we’re blessed with here in HCISD and in the Harlingen community is that everybody’s saying, ‘pick up the phone, let’s talk, can we get this done?’ The appetite to get things done for the betterment of our kids is always at the forefront.”
All of this translates to better jobs and opportunities for Harlingen residents, Garza said.
“From the economic development standpoint, we’re always looking to try to encourage companies to come in to create job opportunities for our citizens. What they’re looking for is a great place to do business, great access to markets — which Harlingen has — and typically the number one thing they’re looking for now is labor and talent,” he said. “We have a very capable workforce thanks to the educators in the region.”
Partnerships and future growth in Harlingen are bright — so much so that more and more people are interested in staying and working in Harlingen instead of leaving the area after obtaining their education.
“We’re beginning to see the pendulum swing,” Cavazos said. “Kids want to stay. If they have meaningful opportunities for employment, they’re going to stay.”