A new program with an impressive success rate is underway at Alvin Community College, where veterans are receiving training to get good-paying jobs in the petrochemical industry as pipefitters and welders.
Teresa Grace is the Grant Coordinator for the Petrochem Veterans Initiative Grant. She told the Construction Citizen team that more than 150 veterans have been trained in the program since it started in the end of 2014. “Veterans have demonstrated discipline, work ethic, leadership, are quick learners and they have the skills employers want,” Grace said.
The program involves fast track training in pipefitting and welding in which students train for 5 weeks for a total of 160 classroom hours. The grant pays for tuition and fees.
“I have reached out to employers and have invited them to visit the college and speak to our veteran students about job opportunities,” Grace said. “Our students are getting hired with Bechtel, S&B Engineers, Performance Contractors, Infinity Group, Zachry and other contractors in the area.”
One of those students, Guillermo Marquez, was in the Army for 8 years and has previously worked as a painter. “The Workforce Commission was promoting the classes and I decided to take it because I wanted to learn more," he said. "I'm learning pipefitting. It's tougher but I'm willing to do it because that paycheck is going to be pretty good," Marquez said.
Joe Socias, an instructor at the school, said it is very rewarding to watch students go through the program quickly and position themselves for a good-paying career. "They're able to go to work and get their life in order," he said. "They go from nothing to something in a short time."
Pointing to some of his students using a virtual welding machine, Socias said it’s the quickest way to train them safely. “We take them to a virtual machine, which would be the same as if you're in a shop welding in the classroom," Socias said. "By the time we put them in the classroom and they’re going through the real welding process, they feel more confident and it’s easier to process them through the course.”
This specific program has been underway for about a year and a half, Socias said, and 50 to 60 percent of the students go right to work after they’ve completed it. “These companies will take them from basic welding and take them and train them the rest of the way," Socias said.
Welding Department Coordinator Alfred Sustaita said the target for students is to become a combination welder. “You go from 15 to 18 dollars an hour up to more than $40 per hour. "Then you’re looking at six figures," he said. "That's a good living in anybody's book."
Another one of the instructors at ACC, Mike Mejia, said he pushes students to find out what they’re really capable of achieving. "Just don't settle for just the basics,” he said. “Once you get to the top, keep learning," Mejia said. "When you walk by something they're going to look at that and they're going to know who did it."
"Once you're in that welder's hood, you can create your own future," Mejia said.