Lupe Camacho

Mechanical maintenance student launches career before graduation

Lupe Camacho is at the top of his class – and hired.

Recommended by instructors in the College of the Mainland Mechanical Maintenance Technician Program, Camacho, of Seabrook, was hired by INEOS Olefins and Polymers USA for its two-year apprenticeship program.

“College of the Mainland has a strong working relationship with INEOS. In June INEOS called and said that they had an opening for their apprenticeship program for a mechanical maintenance technician. They asked that our students apply and that the instructors provide a recommendation letter on each applicant,” said Laura Baumgartner, director of COM continuing education industrial workforce programs.

“Our instructors came from industry; therefore, they know what employers are looking for, good work ethic, desire to learn and ability to work well with their peers. Camacho is an outstanding student and is just one of many that have been hired from COM.”

Now in addition to hands-on instruction in classes two evenings per week, Camacho works full-time at the INEOS Battleground Manufacturing Complex in La Porte to learn the trade. He completed beginner and intermediate mechanical maintenance technician certificate programs at COM before beginning the apprenticeship two weeks ago.

“The benefits are really good as an apprentice. I get all the benefits, bonuses, overtime,” said Camacho.

Camacho is in the final stage of a three-certificate program and entering the field at an opportune time. As industry facilities expanding along the Gulf Coast and new facilities are planned, demand for workers with mechanical maintenance technician skills will only increase.

“Jobs are here and will be increasing over the next three to 10 years based on a meeting I attended with the Texas Workforce Commission.  The focus will be on new construction projects in the petrochemical field which could generate between 15,000 plus jobs in the Texas Gulf Coast area,” said Baumgartner. “Our goal is to build a strong workforce to support what is at our door step.”

Mechanical maintenance technicians and millwrights are currently high-demand, high-skills jobs, according to Workforce Solutions. The organization projects that by 2020 the need for mechanical maintenance technicians (also called industrial maintenance technicians) will grow 41.5 percent. Its data shows the median hourly wage to be $23.

In COM’s hands-on program students learn a wide range of skills, such as preventative maintenance, making machinery adjustments and repairing equipment.   

“What makes COM unique is the ability for students to work on actual industrial equipment, which in some cases has been donated by local industry, such as turbines, gearboxes and compressors,” said Baumgartner. “Industry partnerships have made this program successful, not only by supporting us with equipment but by providing a strong team of knowledgeable instructors and career opportunities like this apprenticeship program through INEOS.”

To prepare for a career troubleshooting and repairing equipment, students spend hours in the lab.

“We get a lot of time to come out to the shop and get our hands on it,” said Camacho. “We learn all of the basic concepts of welding. Compressors we took apart and learned all the parts and put it back together.”

While many classes take place in the lab, students also explore principles in the classroom.

“I focus on a lot on terminology. We show them to look for why it failed,” said instructor Rick Lopez, who spent 40 years as a machinist and supervisor at Eastman Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. “I’ve got a lot of pictures that I brought from plants that I show them so that they will know what to expect in the field. We cover safety and our experiences in the plants.”

Evening classes offer students like Camacho an opportunity to train while working full-time.

After completing the apprenticeship program, if his work and grades are satisfactory, he expects a job at INEOS as a full-fledged mechanical maintenance technician.  

However, he said the greatest reward of the field is tangible - “to actually put your hands on something and see (that) I did this.”

The COM Mechanical Maintenance Program is open for registration for the fall semester, and students may qualify for financial aid through Texas Public Education Grants and the Workforce Investment Act.

For more information, call 409-933-8586 or visit www.com.edu/ce.