For two weeks this summer, about 75 high school students from the Houston and Aldine independent school districts are riding school buses each morning to Lone Star College’s North Harris Campus to learn about opportunities in “middle skills”–trades like welding, machining and pipeline technology that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.

In addition to the hands-on experience with welding and machine programming and tooling, the students are getting opportunities to practice their job interview skills.

On Thursday, the students took turns and gave 30-second introductions before a panel of human resource representatives. The employers encouraged the students to offer more specifics when they describe their work experience, exude more confidence by practicing and talk louder.

Project GRAD, which started in 1989, is designed for students in low-income communities. It coaches them–and their parents–in how to prepare for careers and college, from short-term certificate courses at community colleges to four-year traditional college degree programs.

About 500 students graduate each year as Project GRAD Scholars. Since 1992, about 6,400 of them have enrolled in college.

The two-week program this summer, a collaborative effort among Chase, Project GRAD, Lone Star College and Gulf Coast Workforce Solutions, is an effort to focus on well-paid, in-demand careers that don’t require college degrees.

Alberto Urbina, director of applied technology at Lone Star, told the students in one of the sessions that welders can earn as much as $20 an hour with a certificate that requires six months to a year to earn.

And welding is in such demand that many welders work more than 40 hours a week.

“It’s real easy to break $1,000 a week when you’re working overtime,” he said.

(Next page: The skills pipeline)

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