Creating The Confluence
RGV LEAD is creating a confluence of leadership and initiatives, bringing together leaders from business, workforce boards, economic development organizations, school districts, and institutions of higher education to work together on jointly developed initiatives. Through RGV LEAD, leaders are coming together to promote economic growth for the region and economic success for individuals and families. RGV LEAD is the catalyst bringing the partners together to design and implement initiatives that are blessing the Valley and its people.
Students and the Valley are succeeding through RGV LEAD’s initiatives
Recently, the RGV LEAD Board heard the story of Javier Espinoza, Jr. Javier’s parents were migrant fieldworkers who taught their son the importance of having a strong work ethic and sense of determination, as well as the value of education. During high school, Javier participated in many of the opportunities available through RGV LEAD. He became an RGV LEAD Regional Student Ambassador, an RGV LEAD Scholar, and a finalist for an RGV LEAD Scholarship. Javier and one of his teachers also participated in work-based experiences like those promoted by RGV LEAD.
Javier’s geometry teacher participated in an externship at an employer worksite, then shared with her students what she had learned from that employer. Javier listened intently when an employer came to his class and talked about work in construction management. He then participated in job shadowing and an internship that changed his life. Javier’s original career goal was medicine, but after spending time with leaders from SpawGlass, a general contracting firm and an RGV LEAD partner, Javier became convinced that his “dream” career would be a career in construction. Javier completed the college-and-career-focused program at his high school, earned 26 college credits in high school, and now is pursuing a degree in construction science at a university.
Javier’s experience illustrates the success that is possible when students participate in the initiatives created by RGV LEAD and its partners. The confluence of leadership and initiatives created through RGV LEAD is helping the Valley to capitalize on its advantages and overcome its challenges.
Overcoming the Valley’s challenges
The Rio Grande Valley is a four-county region on the Texas-Mexico border. The region has tremendous potential due to its advantageous geographic location and its youthful bilingual, bicultural population. However, the region faces challenges that stem from poverty and workforce skills gap shortages.
Many Valley youth grow up in poverty, limiting their potential for long-term economic success. A 2013 study (“Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward”) by the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education states that “poverty costs our economy hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and leaves poor families and individuals with a greatly reduced chance of achieving the American Dream.” Many Valley youth leave school early to get jobs they believe will help their families succeed, not realizing they limit their own futures in doing so.
The average poverty rate for Valley families is 32.8%, compared with 13.4% for Texas and 11.4% for the nation, and Valley educational attainment is lower than in other locations. Fifty-eight percent of the Valley’s population aged 25 and above have a high school diploma or higher, compared with 82 percent for Texas and 86 percent for the nation; and 12.6% of the Valley’s 25-and-older population have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 27.6% for Texas and 29.8% for the nation.
Addressing the workforce skills gap that employers face
Valley employers face a skills gap resulting from a shortage of qualified workers. The Valley has many small businesses that are forced to choose from a limited, credentialed talent pool that often does not have the right skills. RGV LEAD works with employers, workforce boards, and economic development organizations to identify targeted industries and occupations for the Valley, then publishes the results in a report designed for use by educators who provide college-and-career advisement for students and their families. As more students understand the opportunities available near their families, right here in the Valley, these students are encouraged to pursue Valley careers that will be beneficial for the students, while helping employers secure the qualified workers that they need.
Closing the gap through RGV LEAD’s confluence of leaders and initiatives
RGV LEAD and its partners are creating a confluence of initiatives that address the Valley’s challenges. Current initiatives include RGV LEAD Student Ambassadors, RGV LEAD Scholars, RGV Mentors, educator externships, student internships, community career projects, and others. RGV LEAD spurs the creation of the various initiatives and manages the multiple cross-sector collaborative projects. Together, RGV LEAD and its partners are integrating workforce and education systems to increase the number of graduates with credentials who meet the region’s workforce needs. Data indicates this system is working.
The confluence of leadership and initiatives created through RGV LEAD is helping the Valley to capitalize on its advantages and overcome its challenges. As RGV LEAD’s work continues and expands, the result is a “win-win” for students, for employers, and for the Valley as a whole.