Shahid Ali was amazed at the pool of talent walking around the James Reese Career and Technical Center. Ali, the City of Sugar Land’s Fleet Services Manager, supervised Mohammad and Julian, two Reese Center students as part of an internship program over the summer of 2022. The students worked with the City’s fleet division, which services all city-owned vehicles, including police cars, fire trucks, and right of way division equipment for the entire course of their useful life.
“The interns we had over the summer really kicked things off,” Ali said. “We were able to benchmark and access their skillset, and we were extremely impressed with what we saw.”
This gave city staff an idea: create a five-year partnership between the City of Sugar Land and the James Reese Center that would allow students to gain firsthand, real-world knowledge of auto shops, while helping the City fill gaps in staffing.
“(The students) both seemed like they were gaining the knowledge with us to succeed in the real world,” Ali said. “So when discussion of this partnership started, it was a no brainer.”
That’s when the Sugar Land Department of Innovaiton stepped in.
“The more we pursue creative ideas and creative solutions internally and the more we work with our community, things just explode in a great way,” Innovation Strategist Sabrina Abdulla said. “Every time we have conversations with FBISD, we learn about a new opportunity. Our department was hearing about workforce gaps and skillsets and those highly-skilled trade areas, so this partnership was a real opportunity to partner with FBISD to fill those gaps.”
The City’s Department of Innovation created the Forming Unique and Strategic Engagements (FUSE) program to help facilitate the partnership. FUSE’s purpose includes collaborating and engaging with community partners to provide internships, externships and public sector experience to Reese Center students.
The five-year partnership includes an interlocal agreement between the City and FBISD. The agreement leverages community talent to address city challenges, while connecting classroom skills to real-world experiences. It also helps beef up student resumes and creates a talent pipeline that the City could pull from should job opportunities be available in the future.
“We are incredibly grateful for the partnership with the City of Sugar Land,” Renee Cosby, FBISD Career & Technical Center Program Manager, said. “This opportunity has granted our students real-world industry experience with servicing a large fleet of vehicles and is opening doors for future career opportunities with the City.”
Students at the Center are assigned to work on preventative maintenance on the City’s light-duty trucks and non-public safety vehicles like Ford F-150s. The students do things like changing tires, oil changes, and basic preventative maintenance.
Ali said the partnership allowed for the full-time staff in fleet to focus on more high-priority items like retrofitting police vehicles with technology and major vehicle repairs.
“We’re exposing them to all the shop can entail,” Ali said. “Beyond the preventative maintenance, they are able to learn about the procurement process, delivery inspections, and other things. It’s definitely reminded our staff that teaching people is a vital part of the process. This gives us the opportunity to prioritize more critical items because PD and Fire get precedent in the shop due to City policy.”
And that’s only in year one. As the partnership moves through its next phase, Ali hopes to expand the program to have students work on more heavy-duty trucks and equipment.
“We want them to work on Explorers, sedans, and super duties,” Ali said.
Beyond the real-world experience, this partnership gives the City the chance to cultivate talent from the ground floor.
“Finding talent is extremely difficult,” Ali said. “It’s difficult for us to compete with dealers and other vendors, but if we have that first experience with a student, we definitely want to leverage that for a couple of years of full-time work if possible.”
This program is just the start of many collaborations between the City and FBISD.
“Making this partnership, it opens the door to all of the other things we want,” Abdulla said. “When people ask us the importance of developing relationships, programs like this give us a better understanding of our communities’ challenges and better outcomes for the community. When we have an ear to the ground, we’re working as a bridge to help our community thrive. We can and want to experiment with each other in those ways. The door is wide open.”