STC launches brewery apprenticeship program

South Texas College said 38% of Americans call beer their preferred post-work wind down. Now, STC students can learn how to brew it.

Thanks to a partnership between the community college and 5×5 Brewing Co. in Mission, STC students will have the opportunity to receive an American Brewers Guild-certified education in fermentation through the new brewery apprenticeship program, STC announced.

“We’re getting the region ready for everything this industry is going to be,” George Rice, co-owner of 5×5 Brewing Co., said in a news release.

Rice’s is only one of two craft beer breweries in the region, along with Big River Brewery in Pharr, which was the first to open. Beers from both breweries are now featured at bars and restaurants across South Texas, and Big River has some canned beer options available at H-E-B, while 5×5 Brewing Co.’s distribution contract with L&F Distributors has seen the beer made in Mission disperse thoroughly throughout the Valley.

Craft beer is defined by the Brewers Association as an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less, or less than 25% of the brewery being owned or controlled independently, and despite South Texas being a popular market for more commercial beers like Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, more bars and restaurants across the region have expanded craft beer offerings.

STC said the number of craft breweries in Texas has ballooned from 60 to more than 280 in the last eight years, making it one of the state’s fastest-growing industries. The college is betting that its first-of-its-kind program will help meet a demand for more people who make quality beer.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild said the industry accounts for $5.2 billion annual economic impact, ranking third nationwide.

“In Texas, apprenticeship programs have traditionally been associated with trades such as construction, electrical and plumbing,” Texas Workforce Commission spokesman Francisco Gamez said in the news release announcing the program, adding that the program is the first that the workforce commission has seen. “South Texas College has listened to industry in their area and implemented a unique program.”

The program could lead to better-paying jobs in the Valley, something officials have sought to improve in recent years. Average brewery salaries have increased by 25% in the last 10 years, rising to a national average of about $67,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

“They’re going to be getting paid more, with potential to be more marketable,” said Carlos Margo, associate dean of industry training and economic development at STC. “(5×5) has a good ability to deliver a lot of beer wholesale, and wants to make sure that employees have a consistent education. That’s the goal here.”