When Amy Hues and Cari Williams started community college classes at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, they didn’t know each other. But it turns out the two tech buffs have a lot in common.

They each drive trucks, love big-game hunting and dream of living in Alaska. They’re both graduating from Lee College a full year early – Cari from the ExxonMobil Process Technology Program and Amy from the Instrumentation Technology program. What truly unites the students, however, is that they’re both becoming part of the growing Gulf Coast workforce. And they did it by following their calling to be technicians in the high-pressure world of manufacturing.

“As an operator, when something goes wrong and everyone else is running away, you’re running to it,” says Williams. “You’re the person everyone’s counting on to resolve the problem.”

The ExxonMobil Process Technology Program at Lee College is part of the Community College Petrochemical Initiative (CCPI). The initiative was started in 2013 with a grant from ExxonMobil to fund workforce development in the Houston area; nine local colleges are part of the program.

Since Baytown’s petrochemical industry estimates the need for tens of thousands of workers over the next decade, it makes sense for industry players to support training in those fields – ExxonMobil, for one, will welcome a new operator when Williams starts her job there in February.

Cari Williams is a student at Lee College in the ExxonMobil Process Technology Program.

Cari Williams, posing before the Lee College pilot plant, is a student of Lee’s ExxonMobil Process Technology Program.

“I’ve always been the girl who likes to work on my truck. I like to know how things work and why they work,” says Williams, who is training for how to operate and maintain units in the chemical processing industry. “I’d heard a lot of good things about the ExxonMobil Process Tech Program at Lee College, so I did some research and it was kind of an instant – and easy – decision.”

Hues is studying the related discipline of instrumentation technology, where the focus is on ensuring that the readings from the plant’s units match the readings on the operator board.

“I used to get in trouble for taking things apart,” she said. “I’d take my radio apart. I’d take my computer apart. The electronic aspect has always been interesting to me.”

Williams and Hues attribute their confidence in operating and maintaining plant machinery to learning from instructors who worked at one of the petrochemical facilities right along the Houston Ship Channel, and the opportunity to work on real-world machinery.

“I can tell you that actually operating the unit in the field, instead of just looking at a schematic in the classroom, is an invaluable part of the training,” Williams explains.

Support of Baytown institutions like Lee College helps ensure that more graduates live and work in the growing Gulf Coast community.

“This is the world for me,” says Williams. “This is what I want to do, it’s what I’m going to enjoy doing and I know I’m going to love working in that field.”

Hues is as emphatic as Williams about her future as an instrumentation technologist in Baytown: “My family lives here. I want to find a position here locally. I don’t want to have to move off, unless it’s to Alaska,” she says with a grin.

Above header image: Amy Hues, a student in Lee College’s Instrumentation Technology program


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