Continuing education courses to be offered at LHHS

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By Rachel Madison

Continuing education courses in both HVAC and plumbing will be offered to area adults through Austin Community College at Liberty Hill High School starting next month.

The 16-week courses, which will be offered beginning Sept. 5, will take place in the evenings and on Saturdays and are specifically geared for adults looking to begin careers in the HVAC and plumbing trades.

The courses are a joint venture between the Liberty Hill Independent School District, the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation and the Continuing Education Division at ACC. One of the areas of the Continuing Education Division at ACC focuses on bringing training to adults by using public facilities in their communities, like churches, schools and community centers.

Don Tracy, director of business operations and marketing for the Continuing Education Division at ACC, said the community partnership with LHISD and the EDC is just that—and will give the Liberty Hill community another way to access education. He added that many people don’t see college as an option for them or they don’t know how to access it.

“What we’re interested in doing and why we wanted to do this kind of partnership is it gives us the ability to bring college to the community in a way that’s more accessible than traditional college,” he said. “These classes are short, affordable and accessible, and allow people to improve their lives significantly in a short amount of time.”

Kristy Kercheville, career and technical education director at LHHS, said the school district, EDC and ACC first met in May 2017.

“Slowly but surely, we had a meeting with district administration and got everybody on board,” she said. “We also talked to local employers about what they are lacking. There are so many people who live here but don’t work here. We also want our graduates to stay here instead of going elsewhere. Everybody put their piece of the pie together and slowly but surely we’ve been able to get this thing going.”

Kercheville said LHISD employees and LHHS graduates will be guaranteed a percentage of the seats in each class—depending on how many students sign up—as an incentive for the ACC using a LHHS classroom to host the courses. Kercheville said she expects each course to have approximately 16 to 18 students enrolled.

“This is a great use of our facilities and great community outreach,” she added. “People can continue their education right here in our own backyard. One thing I love about our school district is we’re always looking for new opportunities to help not just our kids, but also the community.”

The Continuing Education Division at ACC has been running plumbing and HVAC courses at Round Rock High School, as well as HVAC courses at the Georgetown Housing Authority, for over a year. Since their inception, over 100 students have gone through those programs, and all but two have received jobs, Tracy said. The Liberty Hill courses will be modeled after these courses.

“We’ve had a very high success rate because we have engaged with employers who are interested in hiring these adults at the beginning of the program,” he said. “Those businesses are making presentations to the students and getting to know them. It’s interesting to see a company pitching itself to a student rather than the other way around. So far, we’ve had 27 HVAC and 13 plumbing companies who have engaged with us in Round Rock and Georgetown. They are begging for more students. Here in Liberty Hill we’re looking to engage companies that are local to Liberty Hill as well as regional.”

Tracy added that ACC can tweak curriculum based on employers’ needs, meaning if they have specific things they need their students to learn, that can be easily done.

“This model of taking college to the community is based on a simple premise,” Tracy said. “We build a course around a specific topic and a specific need.”

Lance Dean, executive director of the Liberty Hill EDC, said one of the most appealing parts of the partnership is the fact that employers will be able to come in and talk to students during the course.

“They’ll be able to keep up with them as they go through the class, and once they complete the classes, hopefully they’ll already have positions lined up for them,” he said. “We’re looking for employers who want to get involved.”

Dean added that in feedback he has received, many companies are looking to move to Liberty Hill but are hesitant because finding a workforce in the area has been a challenge.

“Through these classes, we’re going to create a workforce,” he said. “We want to help local people find positions here in town. And we want to help local companies find employees here in town. We have more of a bedroom community—people drive to Austin or other areas for work—and this is a good start to building a workforce locally.”

The plan is to keep these courses ongoing at LHHS, and eventually add more. Tracy said welding may be an option in the future. Kercheville added that she’d like to see courses in engineering, IT and other tech-centric areas added as well.

“People who work in that industry, in order to stay in that industry, have to be competitive in it,” she said. “So we want to bring those types of courses here.”

Plumbing and HVAC were chosen for Liberty Hill because there’s significant demand in the workplace, Tracy said, adding that people who take these courses can essentially double their incomes if they’re currently working a minimum wage job.

“These jobs start at $15 to $18 an hour and it just goes up from there,” he said. “We want to start with things we really know there is a huge demand for and as we see success and interest from the community, we want to expand. The courses we offer are based on what people in the community and what businesses in the community want.”

Both courses are completely made up of hands-on training, Tracy said.

“We’ve built a set of mobile training units we can move into the classroom and provide hands-on training,” he said. “With these mobile training units, students are able to do a full HVAC class. They work on real units, learning how to repair them and how they work. It’s the same with plumbing. They are using real toilets and sinks on these mobile training units. They can be rolled inside a standard size door and we can take them anywhere with us to do training. At [Liberty Hill High School] we’ll roll them into the classroom.”

The plumbing course begins Sept. 5 and will be held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6-9:30 p.m. The HVAC course begins Sept. 6 and will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-9:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Those interested in signing up for either course can contact Corbin Jenkins, ACC workforce projects coordinator, at jcorbin.jenkins@austincc.edu or (512) 223-7140.

Tuition for each course is approximately $2,800. Through Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area, a community partnership providing no cost recruitment and employment services to businesses and job seekers in the nine-county region surrounding Travis County, many students can receive tuition assistance. Tracy said when students call ACC to sign up, they can request to be walked through the process to see if they qualify for tuition assistance.

Overall, the three entities involved are excited about this partnership and future opportunities it may bring to Liberty Hill, Kercheville said.

“This is the first time [the school district has] aligned with ACC and EDC in this aspect,” she said. “It’s a step in the right direction for all of us when it comes to long-term planning for our community.”

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