The Texas Gulf Coast has experienced about $35 billion in petrochemical plant expansions, which created new employment opportunities in the petrochemical industry. The changing labor market landscape prompted the formation of the Community College Petrochemical Initiative (CCPI) in 2013, through funding from ExxonMobil, to focus on workforce development in the petrochemical industry across the Houston area. One strategy of this initiative is community college faculty externships with industry employees.
The CCPI is a partnership between nine regional community colleges with the goal of increasing student access to and participation in the petrochemical industry. A workforce development leader from each college is represented on the CCPI Steering Committee. The CCPI acknowledged the challenge of both keeping up with the demand for instructors as the industry grows, as well as instructors staying current with the constantly evolving technology related to the energy industry. To address these challenges, CCPI collaborated with the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association in (a grouping of 130 manufacturing companies in the Houston area “dedicated to providing jobs, upholding environmental standards and enhancing the quality of life in Greater Houston”) to develop 40-hour externships (often scheduled for the summer or academic breaks) during which faculty had hands-on training with new equipment.
Policy in Action
In 2016, the Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator grant further enabled CCPI to develop faculty externships, as well as expand access to these opportunities. Faculty who are involved in this externship must agree to the following requirements:
- Work with industry to update curricula and learning activities
- Connect with employers to build an ongoing relationship
- Share experiences and resources with other faculty
- Expand programs and initiatives to be able to serve as many students as possible
- Provide feedback and participate in evaluation activities to determine the impact of the externships
Since then, feedback from involved faculty has been used to improve curriculum and accurately prepare students for the workforce, as well as nearly double the number of participating community colleges to the current nine involved.
- Educate Texas: How Faculty Externships in the Gulf Coast/Houston Area are Preparing the Future Petrochemical Workforce
- UpSkill Houston: Community College Petrochemical Initiative
- JPMorgan Chase & Co.: Preparing Houston to Skill Up: Addressing the Skills Mismatch to Meet Employer Demand in High-Growth Industries