State Rep. and House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, along with officials from Educate Texas and the Texas Association of Manufacturers, visited the Texas State Technical College campus on Nov. 27.

Educate Texas, a catalyst for large-scale education systems change, has partnered with public and private educational entities to improve public and higher education systems in Texas. The goal of the visit was for the groups involved to shine a light on the types of education being offered at TSTC.

“These organizations asked if they could host a tour on our campus for Rep. John Zerwas so that he could get a firsthand experience with the type of education and opportunities that TSTC produces,” said Roger Miller, TSTC vice chancellor and chief government affairs officer. “We were somewhat of a co-host, but this was actually the idea of Educate Texas, the Texas Association of Manufacturers and the Texas Business Leadership Council.”

Zerwas serves the citizens of Texas House District 28, which includes Fort Bend County, where TSTC operates its newest campus. In the 84th Legislative Session, he also served as chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education. Zerwas said the visit to Waco helped him realize the breadth of opportunities TSTC can offer.

“This is where it all began, so this is a great opportunity to see where the program was born and to see what it’s become since then,” Zerwas said. “The Fort Bend campus, since it just started, has a limited number of programs they can offer. Here at the oldest campus, they have an enormous number of job skills training opportunities. I found each one of them interesting.”

TSTC Chancellor Mike Reeser said it’s important that people see the value of the programs offered at TSTC.

“A lot of times technical education is seen as a consolation prize,” Reeser said. “The programs we offer here are more than that. Who wouldn’t want to be an air traffic controller? Corporate America is finally beginning to talk to students about job opportunities in careers like these.”

The tour showed visitors the aerospace, instrumentation, electrical power and controls, precision machining and welding programs. Several instructors pressed the significance of the skills gap, a shortage of middle-skilled workers to fill open positions.

“We’re seeing the greatest shortage of commercial pilots since the 1950s,” said TSTC Transportation Division Director Carson Pearce. “There are 617,000 jobs available, and that doesn’t include aviation maintenance technicians. We can get a student in and season them in two years, but as fast as we can do that isn’t fast enough to fill the positions.”

TSTC precision machining instructor George Love shared the same sentiments.

“My biggest burden right now is that I’m letting 60 to 70 jobs go unfilled every semester,” Love said. “It’s a weight on my shoulders. If I can provide an extra 60 to 70 students, I could meet the needs I know about in the state of Texas right now.”

Zerwas hopes TSTC’s high-quality graduates can help beat the stigma around technical education and lessen the skills gap.

“More of these graduates being percolated through communities will get people asking, ‘How did you get there?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, I started at TSTC,’ and it gave them a great start,” Zerwas said. “There are lots of ways and efforts to communicate this down to the high schools, and it’s very important. Our future is highly vested in cranking out that highly skilled workforce.”

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