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From Site Selection magazine, July 2022

Career Program Finds Tomorrow’s Workforce TODAY

The LIFT is a learning center operated by the Abilene Independent School District.
Photos courtesy of ASID


bilene, Texas is taking the next step in developing the workforce of tomorrow — preparing students to take an active role in building the future of Abilene through a career empowerment program called NEXTU. Funded by the Development Corporation of Abilene and based on input from local businesses, NEXTU supports students seeking careers in STEM and CTE fields such as engineering, electrical power and controls, welding, airframe and powerplant, software engineering and healthcare. The funding enables students to take dual-credit classes at post-secondary education institutions, earn industry certificates and gain experience in a technical trade.

“In most cases, NEXTU supports career goals the students already have,” says CTE Career Coach Elisha Seca, who recruits students to the program. “They know the path they want to take, and financially NEXTU makes taking that path more doable. They can now get their certification after graduating, knowing they can connect with local employers and be employed very soon.”

Technical and Soft Skills

Mark Colman, president of Rentech Boiler Systems, Inc., recruits NEXTU students for welding internships and is a major supporter of the program. “NEXTU’s support of high school students creates a great pipeline of qualified candidates for Rentech,” he relates. “We have found these students to be well trained and well prepared to enter the workforce. NEXTU ensures that the students focus on both the technical aspects of employability and the soft skills that are needed. The financial support that NEXTU offers is super and allows students that may not have considered these pathways a reason to engage. Additionally, the support of the NEXTU career coach helps to ensure these students stay focused and achieve their goals.”

All new employees, especially those as young as high school students, require investment of time and training dollars to bring them up to speed. But that investment is easy when it comes to NEXTU graduates, says Colman. “The employees that we hire who have come through the NEXTU program are definitely not hired as temporary employees. With the solid educational background that these students have we have found it easy to continue on-the-job training with them. The goal is to have them become an integral part of our manufacturing operations and have a successful career.”

Josefina Jimenez joined the NEXTU Program during her senior year at Abilene High School. She had been taking a welding class and realized it was something she wanted to pursue full-time. “I learned that NEXTU provided scholarships to help cover the cost of my courses and equipment,” she says. “NEXTU provided me an opportunity to go after my passion and make it into a career. The program not only helps you figure out what you want to study and provide scholarships to go to school, but also helps place you in a job once you complete the program.”

After high school, she continued to study welding at Cisco College, where she obtained two welding certifications. “I am currently working at Petrosmith in Abilene, where I get to work in a completely different field of welding than before. I love getting to learn different things every day through my job, where I am constantly challenged to step into a new side of welding and continue developing my skills.”

While attending high school at the Academy of Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Science (ATEMS), which is now housed at the educational facility called The LIFT (Leadership & Innovation in Future Technologies), Colby Northcutt wanted to study aerospace engineering and work on satellites. “When I learned about the NEXTU Program, I realized I could still pursue aerospace engineering, but in a different way than before. NEXTU changed my view of what opportunities are available for students and helped me achieve my goal of continuing in aerospace engineering. The NEXTU Program supported me and provided new opportunities for a firsthand education. If I had an interest in a technical class, NEXTU always had my back and encouraged me to pursue it. Being in the program helped me learn how to collaborate and build trusting relationships, both skills that I use every day in my career.”

Today, Northcutt is completing his last semester at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) for Aviation Technologies while also working for EASI in Abilene. “I get to learn new things every day and continually improve my skills working on aircrafts. I am making a better career for myself with good pay and benefits working at EASI. College was not an option at first, but through the NEXTU Program I have had opportunities to continue my education and now my career in aviation.”


2022 NEXTU Graduation Ceremony at The LIFT

Matthew Voss wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but he wanted the real-life, practical experience more than the math and theory that went with the program. “While I was at ATEMS, I learned about the NEXTU Program and how it offered the firsthand experiences I was looking for and took the opportunity to join during the 2020 school year,” he explains.

After high school, Voss chose to study aviation technologies at TSTC. “I love the Aviation Technologies program at TSTC, because it gives me the opportunity to be able to do what I want. As I finish the last semester at TSTC, I am working to get my license, which is required to continue in our field. In our field, you never stop learning about new ways to improve our work. We have the opportunity to change the world by working on aircrafts.”

Development Corporation of Abilene President and CEO Misty Mayo is proud to see the expansion of the NEXTU Program, now implemented in two school districts in Abilene. “The NEXTU Program is a prime example of Abilene’s strategic investments to grow and upskill our labor force locally. These students are the future of Abilene and together we are ensuring our community’s prosperity for years to come.”

This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the Development Corporation of Abilene.

For more information, please send an email to or call 325.676.6390.

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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