Petrochemical Job Training Lights Up Houston Rodeo

ExxonMobil’s Lynne Lackenmyer talks “petrochem jobs” with area high school students.

ExxonMobil’s Lynne Lackenmyer talks “petrochem jobs” with area high school students.

Texas is known for oil and cattle — and both got a full share of attention at this year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from ExxonMobil, nine area community colleges took the message about great jobs in the petrochemical industry to the 2014 rodeo, staffing an oversize booth just outside the Ag Venture exhibit hall in Reliant Center.
Mission: Tell the diverse audience — 2.48 million people, a record crowd this year — that the area’s petrochemical plants are expanding and need new workers in a variety of fields. And these jobs pay well: According to the latest industry surveys, the average annual salary in the petrochemical industry is $99,700.

The partnership, named the Community College Petrochemical Initiative, kept an exhibit measuring 20 feet long staffed with students, staff and instructors through the 20 day run of the rodeo. Each community college brought its own staff of local volunteers and a “hands on” demonstration of a petrochemical or construction trades process to draw crowds and educate passers by.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the rodeo came on Monday, March 17, when ExxonMobil Chemical Company Senior Vice President Lynne Lackenmyer dropped by the booth to tell college presidents and students that the industry giant was increasing its contribution to job training to $1 million, and extending the grant through August 2015.

“What we have seen very positively is the momentum building and the leveraging across the community college network,” said Lachenmyer. “We have been impressed how the resources we have made available have been leveraged across that broad network.

“We see that need continuing to build for the greater Houston area, so we’ve given that vote of confidence, based on the success thus far, to increase our donation to a million in total.”

Colleges participating in the initiative are Alvin Community College, Brazosport College, College of the Mainland, Galveston College, Houston Community College, Lee College, Lone Star College, San Jacinto College and Wharton County Junior College.

“The nine CCPI-affiliated community colleges have joined together to spread the word about the great careers we can help launch,” said Dr. Dennis Brown, president of Lee College and chairman of the CCPI consortium. “The level of interest from residents in the greater Houston area has been tremendous.”

CCPI colleges share course materials and best practices among the region’s nine community colleges. CCPI expects to attract as many as 50,000 students and educators across the state over the next five years and fast track them through certification and degree programs in a variety of technical fields, including instrumentation, process technology, computer and electrical technology, machining, millwrighting, welding, pipefitting, and other skills and competencies needed by the chemical manufacturing and refining industries.

In all, more than 5,000 individuals stopped by the exhibit. Of these, 1,600 completed “prospect cards,” indicating an interest in pursuing training at a nearby community college. Another 200 expressed interest as community college instructors in petrochemical programs.

“The hours were long, but the effort paid off with very positive results,” said Kelly Dando, CCPI project director.  “Our intention was to ‘get the word out’ about these amazing job opportunities. Because the rodeo is such a large and dynamic event, we far exceeded our expectations.”

“ExxonMobil’s financial support of CCPI is instrumental in our recruitment of students for the technical training programs that are required for entry into these highly skilled trade and craft careers,” Dr. Brown said. In June 2013, ExxonMobil made its first $500,000 contribution to begin the expansion of community college training.

“We expect thousands of jobs to be coming to the Houston area because of new industry investment to capitalize on the abundant, affordable supply of U.S. natural gas to produce chemicals,” Lachenmyer said. “This program is about preparing area residents to fill those jobs and launch satisfying careers in a critical industry.”

At an average annual salary of $99,700, the Texas chemical industry’s pay scale is 46 percent higher than the average for manufacturing. Texas is the largest chemical producing state in the country, supporting more than 73,000 jobs today, with another 81,000 jobs expected through announced investments in new and existing chemical industry capacity.

To learn more about petrochemical careers and how to prepare for them, visit www.gulfcoastcc.org.

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