: APRIL 14, 2011

Part three of a series.

According to the San Antonio Manufacturing Association, the manufacturing industry is one of the largest sectors of the San Antonio economy. In fact, as far back as 2006, its economic impact was estimated at $14.4 billion, with nearly $2.2 billion in wages and salaries for local workers.


In an effort to fulfill the growing demand for skilled workers in the industry, Alamo Academy Executive Director Gene Bowman, said the Alamo Area Academies partnered with Alamo Colleges to create the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Academy in 2004.


The manufacturing academy is the third of the Alamo Area Academies’ four academic ventures that also include aerospace, information technology and health professions training academies.


“There are over 52,000 manufacturers in San Antonio, it is the second largest economic impact indicator in the city,” Bowman said. “The perception that all the manufacturing [jobs] are in China or overseas is wrong. America is still first in the world and produce over 25 percent of world’s products and goods. It is also a perception that manufacturing is a low-wage, dirty nasty job. But manufacturing is really a high-skilled, high-tech, leading edge career where a lot of our nation’s innovation has come from,” he added.


Bowman said that unlike other academic models, the academy programs are specifically designed to not only educate students but provide them with a valuable and diversified skill set, as well as a paid internship and networking opportunities that will lead to a viable career in the booming local manufacturing profession.


“This industry-driven model implemented in collaboration with the Alamo Colleges and our many local Independent School Districts produce graduates from this dual-credit program who are ‘college proven and career ready’ as soon as they graduate from high school,” he explained. “Programs such as the Alamo Academies allow students to prove their ability to be successful in a contextual, hand-on college program.”


Ernie Gil, manufacturing academy coordinator, maintains that since the academy started in 2004, he has seen a growing demand for qualified and skilled local workers from the industry first-hand.


“Manufacturing is a very big provider to economy in San Antonio,” he said. “There are tons of jobs out there because companies can’t find enough young workers to fill all these positions. Now, that we are more established as an academy, companies are coming to us through the city or chamber [of commerce] and asking if we have any kids they can interview for full-time jobs after graduation.”


Gil also added that during students’ two years at the academy, they have the potential to receive more credit hours than any other dual-credit college program offered locally.


“The academies [give] anywhere between 24 to 35 college credits,” he said. “There is no other program out there that is going to give you that many college credits and have it waived by the college under dual credit. The kids get to maximize their bang for their buck.”


Recently, Toyota’s local plant offered six juniors and four seniors at the academy eight-week paid internships for the summer.


Anthony Morano, a 17-year-old senior from Judson High School, was one of the 10 academy students selected for the prestigious Toyota internship.


Morano, who last year interned at Cox Manufacturing Co., said he is excited by all the possible employment opportunities available through the academy.


“The Toyota [internship] looks like a great opportunity,” he said. “It is much more high-tech, much bigger and higher visibility [than my Cox internship].”


Morano, who hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering after attending the academy, said when he graduates he will be the first in his family to become a college graduate.


“My family is all really proud of me and my mom especially wanted me to do this,” he said. “The academy can be a lot of work but it is not too much of an overload. I would tell other kids if they could, to put this [opportunity] first before other school things because this is where you are going to get your actual work experience and job opportunities.”


Ryan Chism, vice president of the Chism Co., said as a local employer, he depends heavily on the academy each year to provide him with quality students who are suitable to fulfill the growing demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce.


“For certain positions in our business, it is the first place I am looking to hire out of,” he said. “Every year, our interns have gotten better and I’ve noticed the caliber of students is constantly evolving. They don’t have the bad habits because in many cases this first internship is their first real job. They are very open, teachable and pliable which as an employer is definitely more preferred.”


Chism said students who work at his company get first-hand work experience in producing customized fabric, metal and textile products for various commercial clients including local chain restaurants and theme parks.


“Students really like the work here because the work is so visible in our community,” he said. “They come and do real work as soon as possible. It is rewarding because they are making something they can connect to and something they can check out later with friends and say ‘hey, I was a part of that. I made that’,” he added.


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