Collin College, McKinney ISD officials prepare for STEM-related job growth in county

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As companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Liberty Mutual Insurance continue moving to Collin County and companies such as Playful Corp. expand in McKinney, the need for qualified employees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, field grows.

Playful Corp., for example, began in McKinney with three employees. Five years later the gaming company has 70 full-time employees and in October moved into a 50,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in downtown McKinney, Playful Communications Director David Calkins said.

“Our building’s capacity is 200, so it’s safe to say we would love to have at least that many employees in 10 years,” Calkins said in an email.

According to a 10-year forecast provided by Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas, STEM-related fields are expected to bring in an additional 12,676 jobs to Collin County. There are 36,083 STEM-related jobs in the county as of June, according to the most recent data available.

As the need for employees in the STEM field increases, Collin College and McKinney ISD officials are taking note and preparing to meet the workforce demand.

“I think what we are finding is that many of the industries in our local area are having a very difficult time in hiring skilled, educated individuals to hold [STEM-related] positions,” said Brenda Kihl, executive vice president of Collin College.

In the last four months Collin College received an information technology, or IT, grant and broke ground on a technology campus south of SH 121 in Allen. MISD and the college will partner to offer dual-credit courses at the technology campus. Collin College also expects to begin construction in 2019 on an IT Center of Excellence at the Frisco campus.

The McKinney Economic Development Corp. is another entity working to attract more technology-related companies to McKinney. The MEDC helped fund construction of the McKinney Technology Center located in the northeast portion of the city. The center opened in early December and is a multitenant coworking space for technology-related companies and entrepreneurs, MTC Partner Lance Black said.

“I think [the STEM industry]will continue to grow,” said Walter Bialas, vice president of research for JLL, a commercial real estate and property investment company that researches where people in various industries live and work. “… So many companies are coming [to the region]that have a technology spin to them.”

Educating the young

Part of Collin College’s master plan looks at workforce needs in the county. These findings are used to determine new programming that should be offered at the college, Kihl said.

“This master plan and the labor market analysis identified six industries in the region that were high-demand and high-wage [jobs]and required jobs that had an education requirement of less than a baccalaureate degree,” Kihl said. “So those six industries were information technology, advanced manufacturing, health care, construction, business and finance, and logistics. Most of those have a strong connection to STEM.”

The Collin College Technical Campus, which is expected to open in fall 2020, is one way the college is actively preparing for this workforce demand. The CCTC will offer programs in automotive service and repair, construction, architecture, health care, manufacturing and IT.

“At the conclusion of either a certificate or an associate’s degree in these programs offered at the technical campus [students]will be well-qualified for some high-wage jobs,” Kihl said.

Students who graduate from the technical campus may enter into a career with an average salary between $26,500-$101,600 ranging from patient care technicians and computer networking to construction management, according to Collin College.

The college also received a four-year grant in October from the National Science Foundation to support a national project. The project will address the need for more IT workers, provide up-to-date skills standards, and facilitate curriculum development for two-year and four-year programs that offer applied information technology degrees.

“The pipeline funneling workers into [IT] jobs is far too narrow, and we simply do not have enough employees to meet the growing demands of this field,” Ann Beheler, Collin College executive director of Emerging Technology Grants, said in a press release.

In addition to the technical campus and IT grant, Collin College is also planning a new IT Center of Excellence at the Preston Ridge campus in Frisco, which is expected to open in August 2021.

However, work to meet the demand does not stop there. MISD offers STEM-related dual-credit courses with Collin College and certificate programs for students in high school ranging from emergency medical technician and certified nurse aid to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, said Todd Young, MISD senior director of career and technical education.

MISD is also using Google Expedition Kits to teach students STEM-related skills and engage them in various courses.

The McKinney Education Foundation has funded nearly 25,000 Google Expedition kits for various MISD campuses over the past three years, MEF Executive Director Ashley Sine said. These kits allow students to learn through augmented and virtual reality.

McKinney’s role

According to Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas, roughly 43,000 people who live in Collin County work in STEM-related fields as of June and nearly 7,000 of these employees live in McKinney ZIP codes—75069, 75070 or 75071.

McKinney’s 75070 ZIP code has the most STEM-related employees with 3,884 people in Collin County. Other ZIP codes with a high number of STEM employees include 75002 in Allen, Parker, Wylie and Lucas; 75025 in Plano and Allen; and 75035 in Frisco.

“One major strategic objective [of the MEDC]is to foster a [technology]ecosystem,” MEDC President Peter Tokar said in an email. “This means more than just having [technology]companies; it means having all the assistance mechanisms in place to help us support entrepreneurs and innovators create new ideas and companies, which in tern create a [critical]mass of smaller companies that may draw in larger companies that want to be close to innovation opportunities.”

As a way to accommodate this objective, the MEDC provided $900,000 to construct the coworking and innovation space at the MTC, Tokar said in an email.

The intent of the MTC is to provide a place of work for businesses and entrepreneurs who work from home or from places such as a coffee shop.

The center offers conference rooms, training rooms, a kitchen, printers, 3-D printing, desks and offices.

“[McKinney] was just a geography that wasn’t touched by other [coworking]businesses,” Black said. “I believe that there are a lot of workers in McKinney, a lot of technical workers, that either work from home or drive downtown on a regular basis, and we want to give them a home in McKinney—a professional atmosphere they can bring customers and prospects to.”

Nicole Luna contributed to the reporting in this article.

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Cassidy Ritter
Cassidy graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 with a degree in Journalism and a double minor in business and global studies. She has worked as a reporter and editor for publications in Kansas, Colorado and Australia. She was hired as senior reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's Plano edition in August 2016. Less than a year later, she took the role of editor for the McKinney edition.
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