Jobs and training await as partners work to educate people of opportunities

01.26.2014 | By

Jobs and training await as partners work to educate people of opportunities


Jeannie Peng-Armao -- January 27, 2014


Industry and educational partners discuss region’s workforce opportunities with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn 

PASADENA, Texas – The Houston region is a prime area for increased employment. Growth of the petrochemical industry, a retiring workforce, and training programs are a driver for economic growth and employment opportunity. Yet, one of the region's biggest concerns is that most of this largely remains unknown to high school and college students.

San Jacinto College, Lee College, the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, Pasadena Independent School District, and petrochemical employers recently met with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, to discuss issues surrounding why jobs within the industry, with lucrative pay and advancement opportunities, remain unnoticed.

"We have tens of thousands of skilled and construction jobs coming up over the next five to ten years, and we don't have enough people currently trained to fill these positions," said Chad Burke, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. "We have all of these different partners pulling in the same direction and highlighting this issue so we can find ways to overcome it, and not slow down the tremendous growth and prosperity we have in the region. It's a great problem to have, but it is a concern."

Besides educating the public about the need for more skilled workers within the petrochemical industry, another hurdle lies in breaking down years of stigma about the jobs in such areas as process technology, instrumentation, non-destructive testing, and construction. When people ask Deanna Harper what she does for a living, the 2012 San Jacinto College graduate proudly tells her story of going from work as a cosmetologist to making $132,000 as a process technician with Shell.

"I find it very gratifying to work in this field," said Harper. "I love that this job is hands-on and that my opinion is valued. The benefits are amazing. Everyone I went to school with in the process technology program all placed in really nice jobs."

As a student, Harper interviewed with Shell for an eight-week internship, which turned into a full-time operator position at $60,000 per year, standard starting salary in this particular industry. Within just over a year, her pay increased, and with overtime, she was able to make $132,000. She is currently re-enrolled at San Jacinto College to pick up more skills in instrumentation, which is also paid for by her employer.

Jordan Chauvette already works in instrumentation for Contech Control Services, Inc., just shy of five months as a San Jacinto College graduate. His skill set includes instrumentation calibration and repairing all instruments that run the refineries and factories. Instrumentation is a line of work that is also needed in other industries such as health care, food production, and education. The military veteran says his project load could keep him busy for the next 10 years.

"There are always projects to complete. Every plant you go to is either building a new unit or upgrading a unit or adding to a new unit," said Chauvette. "Right now, I'm working on three different projects at one time; we have projects for the next 10 years planned out, and that is happening everywhere."

In addition to industry growing, a retiring workforce is another factor contributing to workforce shortage. "Within my unit, I can probably tell you about 10 people in their 60s who are looking at retirement," said Harper.

This why companies like LyondellBasell are going into the school districts to inform middle and high school students early on about the opportunities available to them after high school.

Part of the effort includes offering students funding for their training and providing internships to both high school and college students to give them a glimpse of the petrochemical jobs and the training needed to acquire the skill set.

"There are two fundamental pieces, the disconnect for high school students in terms of where is college going to lead them and the skill set that is needed to get into our industry," Todd Monette, board chair for the East Harris County Manufacturers Association and plant manager for the LyondellBasell Houston refinery.

Sen. Cornyn acknowledged that a partnership between industry and community colleges can result in successful employment, as students are trained for the exact skills requested by the petrochemical industry.

"I want to commend San Jacinto College, the local economic development entities, and the businesses that have contributed to building this impressive workforce training program," said Sen. Cornyn. "As we explore ways to get the nation’s economy back on track, we need only look to the Texas model and success stories like the ones on full display here at San Jac. By empowering individuals with a first-rate education, we can open the doors of opportunity and ensure more Texans and Americans across the country are finding quality, long-term careers."

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150 or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.