Carlos Lopez, President of the Mexican Institute of Greater Houston explains the benefits of learning computer skills and enhancing the quality of life for underserved community members.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
George Walden: Hello, Texas. This is George Walden talking to you from Texas Business Radio. Jay has taken a different seat today. He’s going to assist me in this process. We’re going to be talking to Carlos Lopez from the Mexican Institute of Greater Houston. Carlos, welcome.
Carlos Lopez: Thank you very much for the invitation. I’m glad to be here.
George Walden: Outstanding. Talk about what it is you’re trying to accomplish in Houston, greater Houston.
Carlos Lopez: We’re trying to help people, adults, to learn how to use a computer. Somebody who learns to use a computer will be able to use a computer to learn. Most of our students are parents and grandparents, and they are now able to supervise their kids, help them with homework, and to be a good role model for them because, usually, especially immigrants are individuals that are being left behind by their kids. They don’t know anything about computer. They don’t know anything about the English language. They learn, through us, the importance of using a computer to look for a job, to have better opportunities in life because that’s, in the first place, what they came here to do.
George Walden: Well, you were talking about the fact that so many people come to this country, and they have poor literacy skills. They’re not able to even turn on a computer. Can you imagine what your life would be like or how it would be to watch your child, who is trying to progress in school, and you have no ability to help or facilitate that? That’s the service you actually provide, is that correct?
Carlos Lopez: That is correct. In addition to that, by virtue of a memorandum of understanding that we have with a manufacturer here in town, our students can get, through us, a refurbished computer for a very minimal amount, and they come already loaded with Microsoft Office programs, which is the heart of the curriculum we teach.
George Walden: I use it every day. I understand how important it is in business. Talk to me. How did you get started with this?
Carlos Lopez: Actually, this is an organization that was actually founded in 1991. Since 2002, it has been teaching basic computer literacy in Spanish as the pioneer in the US and then, now, we’re also doing it in English. The reason why I decided to join this group was because most of the entrepreneurs that I was in touch with, they were telling me that they were happy with Hispanics as employees, but they had two problems. The problems were related to not being able to speak in English and not knowing how to work with a computer. Despite the fact that they were finding them to be honest, and responsible, reliable, and good, hard-working people, they didn’t know how to use a computer.
George Walden: Give me an example of that, because you were referencing one earlier. Talk about your little shop and play.
Carlos Lopez: Yes. There was this man that came here very early in life, and he was working outside, doesn’t matter the weather. Hot or cold, rain or not, he was working mowing the lawn. At some point, he was about to be let go by the company, 20-some years of already being spent outside.
George Walden: Doing hard labor, right.
Carlos Lopez: The man was not physically strong anymore to just lift immediately 100 pounds of fertilizer or insecticide. Then he came to us. He learned how to work with a computer. Then he took a second-level course on Excel. He became an expert in using Excel. Now the man is still working for the same company. The company is happy because they were able to keep him. The man is responsible now of keeping inventories using Excel.
George Walden: Oh, I love stories like this, and there’s such a need out there. People today need to become better educated, and they certainly need to know how to turn on a computer and utilize a computer. Again, take us a little further along this path. How does it actually work for you?
Carlos Lopez: Actually, it’s been working very well for me and my team because we believe that we are on a mission, and the mission is to help the fastest-growing segment of our population get the workforce skills that are needed to be at least of … better contributors to society as a whole. They are more self-sufficient. They are better role models for their kids that are going to school, learning English, learning how to work with computers. Nowadays, most of the school districts are providing laptops to their kids. If the parents don’t know anything about the computers, there is no way they can help them with homework, guide them, and perhaps doing some Google search while they are working on something else.
It’s a different world, but it’s not the world of tomorrow. It is the world of today. Again, the person that learns how to work with a computer will know how to look for information and better information, anywhere in the world, using a computer. We have been able to teach our courses in Dallas, Waco, San Antonio, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and we’re ready to do it anywhere because we have our own educational platform and our own servers.
Jay Curry: Now, Carlos, you’re talking about Microsoft Office, which is the biggest used products as far as generic computer, but these are people that don’t understand English, so you’re having to teach them some English. They got to learn what file is and return and things of that sort, right?
Carlos Lopez: Correct. We do that because we use not only an instructor in the classroom. The class is being delivered in Spanish, but all the terms, everything, all the software is in English, so they don’t have to go to one potential employer saying, “Hey, you know what? I learned to work with this in Spanish.” No, the Microsoft is of-
Jay Curry: Right, not going to open a lot of jobs, maybe some, but not an awful lot. That’s not any different than the airline industry, if you think about it. There’s a standard of English in the airline industry. If you don’t know English, and you want to be a pilot, you’re going to learn some major words. You don’t have to become fluent in it, but you got to know the English words that are relevant to your industry.
Carlos Lopez: You know what as well? It’s very invigorating for us in the Mexican Institute Team to see these people with a big smile after 100 hours in the classroom when they see, “I was able to do it.” We have testimonials of individuals who are almost 70 years of age, and they’re saying, “Hey, if I was able to do it, how come you can’t?” A lady that is very enthusiastic because she’s a grandma, and then, many times, the grandmothers are the ones in charge of the kids when they come back from school.
It is something that is helping today and is helping the future because if the parent, for instance, do not understand and doesn’t appreciate the importance of education, there is no way they will allow their children to continue going to school. We know of cases in which the father has seen his son, already 13, 14, telling the son, “Hey, you know what? I never went to school. You’re not going to school anymore. I am a roofer. I want to teach you to be a good roofer, and our family needs more money.” There goes all that society has been investing in those kids. Do we understand that? We need to have a good partner at home for our program of teaching kids really works.
George Walden: How does your program get paid? Who does that for you, the individual taking the class, or do you get outside contributions from other people?
Carlos Lopez: We ask the people to pay. The way they pay and the level they pay is about a third that they would pay in other options where the classes are being taught in English, and they are much smaller. In addition to our instructor, they have the assistance of an online tutor. It’s a very well put together program at a third of the possible cost somewhere else.
George Walden: And-
Jay Curry: Carlo … I’m sorry.
George Walden: I would like to ask why do you ask them to pay?
Carlos Lopez: Why?
George Walden: Why do you ask them to pay?
Carlos Lopez: Well, because we human beings, especially adults, don’t appreciate anything that we receive for free, anything that we receive for free. If there is no skin in the game, it doesn’t work.
Jay Curry: There’s no value, right?
George Walden: I love that comment.
Jay Curry: Yeah, that’s so true.
George Walden: I just really do. You had said that to us earlier, and that’s why I asked you to say it again, because I think people need to hear this. You need to put your own effort in. You need to put skin in the game.
Carlos Lopez: It is not only time, but you know what? For instance, we do teach our classes on weekends as well. We have had people come in for a class all the way from Victoria or Humble.
George Walden: Okay. Well, we’re at the end of the show, and this has been a lot of fun. I’ve got to admit there’s a lot more here that can be discussed.
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George Walden is a Managing Director and Principal in Corporate Finance Associates’ Houston office with twenty-five years experience as a middle-market investment banker. George is a member of CFA’s equipment industry practice group and an expert in the precision machining industry with special emphasis on manual machining, CNC precision machining, and gun drilling services and has been responsible for several industry-leading transactions. You can learn more about George HERE.