Amid Depressed COVID-19 Job Market, Island University Offers Free or Low-Cost Online Upskill Opportunities

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For applicants in search of a new employment opportunity, a gap in skills could be a deal breaker for most recruiters. In a tight job market as a result of the radical economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the global economy, focusing on soft skills could mean the difference between landing the job and extending the search for work. 

For the past decade, job seekers as well as those already in the workforce have turned to the Career and Professional Education program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for online professional development and industry-based skills certifications. Director of Community Outreach Joe Miller said the program works closely with several companies that develop non-academic content for online courses.

“Some of the online courses we offer are instructor-led and others are self-paced. We partner with the companies who create the content and then help people select the right programs, access the courses, and register,” Miller said. “We’ve been successful with that model for over 10 years. What has been the game changer for us over the past six to eight years is when we've been able to help participants find funding sources that help them pay for the courses.”

The program works with the Texas Workforce Commission, AmeriCorps, and the military to provide grants and funding resources for students. For example, there are 93 courses available in the TWC Eligible Training Provider List. They range from Administrative Dental Assistant to Welder Technician (online), and many more.

Danell Reilly serves as program specialist and said participants can choose from one of two types of content: fundamentals-based courses or career training programs.

“We use fundamental courses as your pathway to the certifications,” Reilly said. “After a student finishes certain career training programs, they may obtain an industry-based certification.”

At the beginning of the year, the TWC Eligible Training Provider List had about 20 courses. Reilly was in the process of adding additional courses to the list when the lockdown response to COVID-19 pandemic took effect in Texas in March. Working quickly, Reilly said she was able to add 74 new courses to the list.

“I’ve been busy ever since with calls from prospective students wanting to take the courses so they can get a better job, or get their certification, or get a job period,” Reilly said.

A veteran herself, Reilly said she is pleased to help veterans and dependents of veterans find funding for a particular course. Qualified military participants can currently choose from more than 200 courses online.

In addition, Reilly meets quarterly with a dedicated group of local employment experts that consult with them on which skills are in high demand in the workforce. This information allows Miller and Reilly to identify courses and programs that can be most helpful to people trying to upskill in the job market.

“Part of my role in this advisory group is to connect the workforce that we have with opportunities,” said Liza Wisner ’04’07 of the City of Corpus Christi. “The opportunities are here in Corpus Christi, and we have to increase the level of education for our Corpus Christi workforce, so they are competitive with the way the market is growing. The economic outlook for the City of Corpus Christi is exciting, and for me, I think it’s an opportunity for us to help our citizens be a part of the equation.”  

Miller said the program currently has roughly 75 participants; year-round, the program serves between 150-200 participants from all over the country.

In an effort to assist members of the community who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Career and Professional Education program is offering 10 free online self-paced tutorials, which are available until June 30. Tutorial offerings include creating web pages, 12 steps to a successful job search, marketing a business on the internet and small business marketing on a shoestring.

Wisner said that future workplace leaders need to have a learner’s mindset. The tutorials are a great way for jobseekers to develop new skills during the employment search.

“I think the beauty of having an educational organization like my alma mater Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in our backyard is priceless,” Wisner said. “Providing tutorials that offer skills that people are going to need free of charge is a wonderful opportunity for the people who may be jobseekers now to advance their careers and add new skills so that they are ready when the opportunity comes.”

With the revenue generated by the non-academic online courses, the Office of Community Outreach offers Impact Multiplier Grants to Island University faculty to foster and facility community engagement.

“This year, we put $12,000 in the hands of faculty who wrote winning proposals and over the past three years, it’s probably been close to $25,000 that we’ve been able to put back into the community through these projects,” said Miller. “So, the program bears fruit in two different ways: participants enhance workforce skills, and on the backside, our office puts some of that revenue back into the community in the form of resources, activities, and programs that generate intellectual capital and promote positive impact.”