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100% of Latino Grads Start Trades Careers With Centro Educativo Latino's Workforce Development Program


(NewsUSA) - Development Program

New Partnership Offers HVAC Training in Spanish

The US Census Bureau reports that approximately 20% of the US population is Hispanic and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 30% of construction workers are Hispanic.  As baby boomers reach retirement age, Latino workers play an increasingly crucial role in keeping the dynamism of the US labor market and for many of them, having options to education in their native language is critical for developing skills that make them employable.

Since its inception in 2010, Centro Educativo Latino at Lenoir Community College (LCC), in Lenoir County, North Carolina, has become a cornerstone for the Hispanic community, offering over 70 Spanish-language workforce development courses in high-demand trades. 

Carlos Cotto, the Director of Centro Educativo Latino and LCC's Associate Dean of Workforce Development and Latino Programs began his mission to help more Latinos feel welcomed at the college, turning access into more economic opportunities in the state.

“It's sad to say, but the Latino population has never had access to a good, higher education….. they’d be taught at churches, libraries, or a little trailer on the side of the college campus. My intention with CEL was to create a college within a college welcoming the underserved population in their native language.”

A One-of-a-Kind HVAC Program

Recently Interplay Learning, the leading provider of immersive skilled trades training, joined forces with LCC to advance the mission of Centro Educativo Latino, its workforce development program, and increase access to the nation’s first North American Technician Excellence (NATE) HVAC certification hybrid program in Spanish. 

The integration of Interplay’s trades training has elevated the impact of its 200+ hour associate degree program, incorporating online courses and the latest in 3D simulation and VR training technology, presented entirely in Spanish.   

Along with its catalog of online courses, the VR training provided by Interplay is also available to students through the school’s VR headsets, which they cast onto screens during weekend labs, creating a field-like virtual reality environment that enhances safety, engagement and hands-on learning experiences. This dynamic approach puts theory into practice, addressing language barriers and caters to diverse learning styles.  Students get hands-on practice with a wide variety of scenarios and equipment types in a safe, no-fail environment.  

A Model for Equitable Education

This approach to learning marks a tide change in technical education, bridging the gap between theory and practice with innovative opportunities once typically reserved for English-led trade programs.  

Cotto says, "This partnership with Interplay Learning is a significant step forward in providing our students with courses that reinforce NATE and offer the best cutting-edge 3D simulation and VR training in their native language. This comprehensive education ensures they are industry-certified and just as prepared for the demands of rewarding careers and entrepreneurship as their Anglo peers."

Centro Educativo Latino extends its commitment beyond linguistic accessibility by providing an affordable and flexible hybrid model of HVAC instruction, blending Interplay’s online coursework and in-person labs. 

The program addresses the needs of parents and individuals working full-time by offering four hands-on weekend classes, serving approximately 120 students. A sliding-scale pricing model, supported by generous scholarships like Train the East, ensures that education remains financially accessible, reducing student fees to about 3% of comparative state-funded programs. The in-demand program reaches 29 surrounding counties, with its popularity drawing students who travel from out-of-state to participate in the always-full program. Cotto breaks down the costs,

"Our HVAC program adds up to about 240 hours of online and in-person instruction and costs about 3% of the cost of similar state-funded programs. We provide all tools and materials at no extra cost, plus access to college, state, and NATE certifications, ensuring comprehensive value for our students.”

88% of students willingly drive up to 2.5 hours for this program, underlining the dedication and enthusiasm for this valuable educational opportunity. Additionally, the hybrid instructional model has acted as supplemental support for program instructors, enabling their main HVAC instructor, Henry Perez, to expand his mentorship and impact to more students. This past year, Perez received an award for one of HVAC Excellence’s top 25 Most Influential Instructors for 2024. 

Program Outcomes 

Steady Enrollment 

The popular program has continued to attract students from surrounding counties and out-of-state, with enrollment holding steady at 30 students per class. With four classes per weekend, the program averages about 120 students per semester.

Industry-Certified Graduates

99% of students graduate from the program, with 100% obtaining their NATE Core Certification and state EPA, along with various Interplay certifications across HVAC, plumbing, and electrical, enhancing their employability and career prospects. 

Strategic Partnerships and Entrepreneurship

The program has established strong relationships with local employers who value the skills and certifications of Centro Educativo Latino graduates, leading to 100% of grads going on to work in the trades. Cotto is particularly proud to share the story of two young women who recently completed the program with honors and are now enjoying a better socioeconomic standard of living, boasting newly attained annual salaries starting at $62,000 a year.  

Cotto explains, “When students show up to local employers with three community college certificates, NATE, the State EPA certification, and a portfolio of about 34 Interplay HVAC certificates, the employer says to us, ‘We need more of these people.’ So we stay well-connected and funnel our students into the workforce when they meet employers' qualifications.”

Cotto also weaves in classes in entrepreneurship to prepare students to start their own trade businesses, which 75-80% of students completing the program have gone on to do. 

“For the longest time, the Latino community never had a place to go for higher education in the skilled trades,” notes Carlos Cotto, director of Centro Educativo Latino and LCC’s associate dean of workforce development and Latino programs. “This partnership with Interplay Learning is a significant step forward in providing our students with comprehensive, cutting-edge 3D simulation and VR training in their native language, ensuring they are industry-certified and well-prepared for the demands of rewarding careers and entrepreneurship.”

The collaboration between LCC and Interplay Learning empowers more individuals within the Latino community to access and excel in trades education. Not only is the program opening doors to new economic opportunities, but it's fostering a more skilled and diverse workforce.

“Empowering the Latino community through accessible trades education aligns seamlessly with our mission,” said Doug Donovan, CEO and founder of Interplay Learning. “We believe in the transformative power of education and technology, and this collaboration exemplifies our commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in the workforce.'”

About Centro Educativo Latino 

With a mission to bridge gaps and empower Hispanic individuals, the Centro Educativo Latino at Lenoir Community College is a pivotal resource for the Spanish-speaking community, offering quality education in their native language.  The program provides Spanish-language courses in workforce development fields like HVAC, welding, and cosmetology, along with ESL classes. Serving over 2,000 students in the last two years significantly increased Latino enrollment at the college, fostering a sense of community and belonging. This initiative underscores Lenoir Community College’s dedication to inclusivity and creating educational opportunities for diverse student populations.

About Interplay Learning

Austin-based Interplay Learning is the industry leader in immersive training solutions for the skilled trades. Interplay’s acclaimed SkillMill training platform enables rapid upskilling and empowers new technicians to be job-ready within weeks, not years. Featuring expert-led videos, hands-on 3D simulations, knowledge checks, and personalized learning paths, SkillMill is more scalable and engaging than traditional training. Leveraging advanced technologies like AI and VR, Interplay is reshaping the future of online skilled trades training, delivering highly effective learning experiences that result in better careers and better lives. 

Recent accolades include Forbes’ 2023 America’s Best Startup Employers, 2022 Inc. 5000 list, 2022 Inc. Best in Business list, and three honorable mentions in Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards. Visit www.interplaylearning.com to learn more.