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Workforce Development Innovation Challenge to help mitigate skills gap launch

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Noel Bernal, city manager for the City of Brownsville, and Jayshree Bhat, UTRGV’s assistant vice president for Office of Professional Education and Workforce Development. (Courtesy Photo)

Texas Border Business

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RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TX – To help offset the rapid pace of changes in technology and the skills gap it has created, UTRGV has developed a way to help mitigate this by developing a more highly prepared and adaptative workforce.

The university’s Office of Professional Education & Workforce Development (PEWD), in collaboration with the Workforce Development Advisory Committee (WDAC), has developed a comprehensive strategy through the Workforce Development Innovation (WDI) Challenge. 

The WDI Challenge will launch 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 24,at the UTRGV Community Engagement and Student Success (CESS) building (Expressway 281 frontage road and Freddy Gonzalez Drive) in Edinburg.

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Companies that meet the criteria will receive the WDI award, recognized by the community and industry leaders. 

The challenge asks area leaders to collaborate on the creation of partnerships within industry, economic development organizations (EDOs) and the community. 

The university is also interested in developing strategies to offset the concerns of many industry partners that graduates entering the workforce are not prepared well enough for today’s jobs and lack the industry-specific knowledge and professional soft skills to be able to perform those jobs effectively. 

Dr. Parwinder Grewal, UTRGV executive vice president for Research, Graduate Studies and New Program Development, said developing the skills the current workforce is essential to increasing the efficiency and productivity of local businesses in South Texas.

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“This new annual Innovation Challenge will help us more deeply engage with the businesses on a regular basis, to learn about the skills needed,” he said. “That way, we can provide more up-to-date academic and continuing education programs that help minimize the workforce skills gap that exists between the industry and higher education.” 

To participate in the challenge, EDOs and community partners will identify and team up with a local company, then will help the company identify the employees to be upskilled and the skilled to become more efficient. The collaboration also will help companies commit to an improved wage structure and will help support the industry partners with information from the Texas Workforce Commission, the TEA and other entities to apply for relevant grants and support for each program. 


The collaboration will help engage skills training providers from the university, technical schools, private training providers, and in-house training.

Adrian Villarreal, president of IBC Bank-McAllen and a WDAC member, said WDAC is encouraging higher education institutions in the region to meet the challenge to collaborate with industries to help build the economy and the workforce. 

“In order for our region to fully maximize our existing and future opportunities,” he said, “it is critical for industry partners to closely work with higher education to develop a workforce that attracts and supports our economic drivers.”

Mario Lozoya, president of Lozoya Consulting and one of the WDAC members leading the initiative said, the UTRGV’s WDI Challenge can be a gamechanger in the Valley.

“UTRGV’s commitment to bridge the skills gap with initiatives like this is commendable,” he said. “Their thoughtful leadership provides a win for students, the industry and, ultimately, the economy.”


The event will serve as a good opportunity for economic development organizations in the Valley to develop regional goals in collaboration with the higher education institutions, organizers said. 

Those interested in attending the Sept. 24 event are encouraged to RSVP due to limited seating.  For more information, contact the UTRGV Office of Professional Education & Workforce Development at (956) 665-6513 or email: pewdoffice@utrgv.edu.

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