At literally almost any time of the day, there are Houston-area residents on the campus of San Jacinto College in Pasadena acquiring skills they need to be able to pursue good-paying careers in construction. Delores Tarin, for example, is a young woman who spoke with the Construction Citizen Team during an evening welding class this past week.
“The fire and the power is cool,” Tarin said. "After this, if I don't get a job with my new certification then I’ll continue and get my Associate's Degree,” she said. Tarin has previously worked as a helper on a pipeline and felt an upgrade in her skills will lead to a better-paying job.
Educators stress that the opportunities aren’t “just jobs.” Careers are available.
“There’s a career ladder out there,” said Dr. JD Taliaferro, Director of Applied Technologies at San Jacinto. “Some of these larger companies are being run by people who started as pipefitters, welders, and electricians out on the job,” he said. “Just because you’re starting somewhere, that doesn’t mean that’s where you end. Your fate is really up to you.”
There is such high demand for pipefitters, welders and electricians that it is difficult for community colleges in the area to keep up.
Students are routinely referred to San Jacinto by the Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation, or CMEF, where there is a registration process "and then they send them over to us to be trained," Taliaferro said. San Jacinto is able to offer NCCER training on whatever a client company needs, he said. Their three-pronged approach includes open enrollment training, grants, and "link classes" (targets student success), which offer incredible flexibility.
Despite the downturn in oil prices, Taliaferro and others said there isn’t much slowdown in industrial construction in East Harris County.
“On this side of town, we’re petrochem, but we’re heavy on the ‘chem’ part, and the feedstock for that is natural gas,” he said. “Recent information has come out saying the price of natural gas is at a historic low and will stay there for 100 years. That’s the reason for all the plant expansions here,” he said. “I can go somewhere overseas and pay at a high cost, or I can come here, a few miles up the road from the shale plate itself and build a plant with a workforce that’s already here and already has an innate knowledge built in,” Taliaferro said. “Part of it is that work ethic.”
Oscar Trevino, the Ready To Work Petrochem Grant Coordinator at the school, said that the $9.3 million program targets those who are long-term unemployed or “underemployed.”
“They had a full time job and they lost that job and now they're part time and not making as much as they did before," Trevino said. Those include some recent layoffs at NASA, he said. "Some of them are still waiting for NASA to come back and hire them back," he said. "We're telling them that they may need to go into something else because that's not going to happen for a while."
Delores Tarin, the young woman we met on our recent visit, said the work is hard but it is also rewarding and fun. "I like it. It's not like any other job,” she said. With a big smile on her face, Tarin said construction work isn't just for men, either. "Women can work with their hands and get a little dirty and work hard," she said.
Students learning how to use a rig for safety
A student welding in the lab
Students practice their welding skills outside the lab
San Jacinto College's welding simulator