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Texas announces workforce training initiative

Christopher Sherman, Associated Press

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) -- A new workforce training initiative will aim to fast-track education for people with skills and real-world experience but without formal certification, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday.

The "Skilled Workforce Initiative" would seek to meet the growing demand for skilled workers in areas such as advanced manufacturing with people who already have some training and experience, including military veterans and displaced workers.

"The framework for technical training that we're going to be putting in place will enable these workers to earn their technical certification fast at an affordable cost and targeted to specific skills that are needed by industries so that they can be sure that the jobs are going to be waiting for them when they finish their coursework," Perry said.

By assessing those students' skills and giving them credit for what they already know, the time to achieve certification can be cut dramatically, he said. Less time will mean less cost as well.

A program launched earlier year called College Credit for Heroes also sought to address the question of giving credit specifically to veterans for training they received. The Harlingen campus of Texas State Technical College, where Perry spoke Tuesday, has about 188 veterans enrolled among its 6,000 students.

In the new program, students would finish with a certificate of completion in a specific field that would fit between an associate's degree of applied science and a high school diploma, said school Provost Adam Hutchison. Those credits would then be transferable if the students wanted to pursue more education later.

The first classes would begin in September 2013 at Texas State Technical College campuses in Harlingen and East Williamson County. Details were still being worked out, but Hutchison estimated there could be 20 to 40 students in the first fast-track groups at each campus. If successful, the plan would be to tailor additional programs for other specific industries such as petroleum and chemical.

Perry and school officials said employers will determine to a large extent what skills are taught. He said the program would be developed with existing funding and estimated about $1 million had been marked for it. He said that was only a preliminary estimate at this early stage.

TSTC Chancellor Mike Reeser said the program's focus on skills competency will provide more flexibility than the typical school framework allowing students to progress more quickly, perhaps in half the usual time. Students won't have to repeat training for something they already know.

Central to that will be a yet-to-be-determined tool to assess what students already know. Driving the program is the demand for specific skills among various industries that are facing a "greying workforce," Reeser said.