The petrochemical industry on the Gulf Coast, now bolstered by massive new investments due to shale gas (see: “The Good News Grows”), faces a challenge in securing well-qualified staff for high-demand skilled trades. This opens up opportunities for military veterans, believes the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Austin. It has launched a “Veteran and Industry Partnership” (VIP) initiative to train veterans in the skills needed for such jobs.
The TWC has allocated $4.3 million for the initiative, which includes specific efforts related to three industries — petrochemicals, advanced manufacturing and information technology — and involves 17 colleges. The program offers veterans an expedited path to achieving industry-recognized credentials. In addition, it covers tuition, fees and books for most of the courses, so there’s no cost to qualified veterans taking them, explains Lisa Givens of the TWC.
“The availability of veterans who have the discipline, work ethic and capacity to learn new skills quickly presents a favorable environment to respond to industry needs while enhancing the professional skills of veterans and providing further job opportunities in high-demand, high-wage industries, notes Hope Andrade, a TWC commissioner. “The training developed by VIP will give veterans credit for their years of training and experience in the military, and emphasize the need for immediate job placement after completion,” adds Ronny Congleton, another TWC commissioner.
“The Texas Chemicals Council is proud to collaborate with TWC and our workforce and education partners to help develop curricula to meet the workforce needs of Texas’ petrochemical employers and help our returning veterans transitioning into civilian life,” says its president and CEO Hector Rivero.
The VIP Petrochemical Industry initiative includes seven colleges on the Gulf Coast: Alvin Community College, Alvin; Del Mar College, Corpus Christi; Lee College, Baytown; Lone Star College, Houston; Houston Community College, Houston; San Jacinto College, Pasadena; and Victoria College, Victoria. Each college determines the length of its particular programs.
Courses prepare veterans for one of several skilled jobs: welder, pipefitter, electrician, millwright or carpenter. The type of training available varies by college. So far, more than 100 veterans have availed themselves of the programs at the seven schools.
At Alvin Community College, which has handled the largest number of veterans, 71 (46 in welding and 25 in pipefitting), each course runs five weeks and includes a total of 160 classroom hours, compared to 420 classroom hours for the conventional program, notes Teresa Grace, assistant veterans grant coordinator. Graduates of the welding course receive a certificate in basic welding while graduates of the pipefitting course get a certificate in “introduction to pipefitting,” she adds.
The first pipefitting class started in October 2014 and graduates got their certificates in November; the initial welding class began in November 2014, with certificates issued in December. The college now has run four classes for each trade.
A number of contractors for major petrochemical producers have expressed interest in the graduates, Grace notes. However, the TWC grant doesn’t require keeping track of the hiring of the veterans, so there’s no hard data on how many have found positions in their new trades, she explains.
At Victoria College, which offers training for welders, pipefitters, electricians and millwrights, veterans take the same courses as regular students, says Radonna Brown, program coordinator, workforce and continuing education. Three of the courses will finish this month; welding will end in June. Graduates get a certificate of completion from the college as well as a nationally recognized card issued by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, she adds.
The TWC will be evaluating the VIP initiative in the near future to determine whether to fund the program beyond this year, notes Givens.
Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at email@example.com.