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SAN ANTONIO — Alamo Colleges has created a new high school-to-career academy. Credit the Eagle Ford Shale for this one.

The Heavy Equipment Academy, the fifth such program operated by the community college system, will begin in the fall 2014 semester for area high school students.

 A strong connection exists between heavy equipment and the oil-and-gas industry. Heavy equipment builds roads to wells. Heavy equipment also performs site work, handles pipes and moves sand used the drilling process.

Because of the Eagle Ford, plenty of job openings exist for heavy equipment technicians, both in the field and in shops.

The industry in South Texas was caught in an employment whiplash when the 2007-09 recession occurred. Workers were laid off because of the economic slowdown, but no one knew then how quickly the Eagle Ford fields would develop. Demand for heavy-equipment workers rebounded quickly.

San Antonio’s Holt Cat alone has about 400 heavy-equipment units rented in the Eagle Ford area at any one time, said Howard Hicks, Holt Cat’s vice president of public affairs.

“The demand grew faster than we could train and hire technicians,” Hicks said.

Holt Cat has 30 to 40 heavy-equipment technician job openings now in the San Antonio area and about 150 across its territory, which covers much of Texas, noted Peter John Holt, general service manager for the Holt Cat machine division.

“The academy gives us a fix for our short-term problem,” Holt said.

The idea materialized last year for heavy-equipment dealers, contractors and quarries to join together to develop a pool of young workers for the industry. The idea grew initially from San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s Education & Workforce Council meetings.

Alamo Colleges trustees approved the new academy in December.

Like all of the previous academies — for the aerospace, manufacturing, health care, and computer networking and security industries — the new academy is industry-driven. Along with Holt Cat, other companies backing the Heavy Equipment Academy include ASCO Equipment Co., ROMCO Equipment Co., Zachry Construction Corp. and Martin Marietta Materials Inc.

The new academy’s backers hope the first class will have about 40 students. They will be trained on equipment partially provided by the supporting companies for half of their high school class days at the St. Philip’s College Southwest Campus at Port San Antonio. High school sophomores can begin arranging to enter the academy now.

Similar to the other academies, Heavy Equipment Academy juniors and seniors should graduate from their home high schools with about one year’s worth of college credit toward a two-year associate degree. Along with an associate’s degree, several industry certifications also can be obtained.

Workers in the industry can earn $30,000 to $90,000 a year, Hicks said, depending on experience. “They’re good jobs,” he said, accompanied by benefits such as retirement savings plans and college tuition reimbursements.

The training mainly will be hydraulics and electronics, Hicks explained, but not diesel engines.

As with the other academies, the academy’s industry partners have committed to provide internships to academy students, starting with the summers between their junior and senior high-school years, Hicks said. Commitments are in place already for about 20 interns.

Administered by Alamo Academies Executive Director Gene Bowman, the academies have provided valuable employee pipelines to their industries. The program, free to students, recently was selected as a finalist for the first-ever national Legacy Award to be presented later this month by the Association of Community College Trustees.

Numerous industries face vocational worker shortages in the economic recovery. The Alamo Academies are a model for addressing many of the shortages.

dhendricks@express-news.net