Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

LSCO meeting demand for high-paying industry jobs

Cheryl January at LSCO has people of all ages and backgrounds coming to her office to learn about getting a new career. Some have even been teachers with four-year college degrees.

They are looking into becoming a process operator in the booming petrochemical plants, oil refineries, and liquid gas units across Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.

The jobs are needed in the longtime plants or the newer ones, including the $8.5 billion Orange Chevron Phillips plant under construction. That new plant will add 500 permanent jobs when it is completed in 2026. And those jobs can pay a big salary. Orange Mayor Larry Spears, who works for Dow Chemical, said operator jobs pay $200,000 a year.

January is the director of the Industrial Process Technology and Instrumentation Department at Lamar State College-Orange. The school now prefers to go by its initials, LSCO.

January said the courses draw men and women, and are offered through day and night classes to fit the schedules of people with jobs.

It's not the only program filling up. Howard Bailey's Electromechanical Technology courses are also popular as students learn to use robotic-type skills to work in the plants. He even has a class of students from Bridge City High earning dual credits so they can get a job in the industry quicker after high school.

"I want anybody interested in mechanics," Bailey said. "The money is there and the jobs are there."

LSCO President Dr. Tom Johnson, who took over as head of the campus in 2018, has been adding training courses to meet the needs of the area. Those courses have included driving classes to earn commercial licenses for 18-wheel rigs and school buses. The school last summer added a large concrete parking lot for the students to practice.

LSCO is under the Texas State University System. Dr. Johnson said the Texas Legislature is encouraging state schools to offer more courses to help people get jobs.

LSCO for a number of years has had a strong regional reputation for offering health sciences classes to train for things like LVN nursing, medical technicians, and pharmacy assistants.

The industrial classes have also been offered for years, but are now increasing with the demand. The college has a new building going up along First Street between Green Avenue and Front Street that will house Electromechanical Technology and other skills.

January said the industrial programs offer two-year degrees that include academics, or two-year certification programs. She said scholarships are available.

Industrial companies have supported the college with scholarships. Also, the Texas Legislature has approved cuts in tuition during the past couple of years.

For those interested in the academic courses at the college, the architectural designs have been completed, the money has been allocated, and the ground is clear for a new $37.5 million Academic Building along Green Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets.

January and the process technology department are in the Wilson Building along Green Avenue across the street from the academic site. Oldtimers will recall it once being the J.C. Penney Store until the 1980s.

And for a bit of more history, the Wilson Building is named in honor of the late U.S. Representative Charles Wilson, who represented Orange County in Congress for 24 years. He was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film "Charlie Wilson's War," that co-starred Julia Roberts. Wilson was a big supporter of LSCO during its early years.

For more trivia, Dr. Johnson once worked for Wilson. His office overlooks the Sabine River and the historic shipyard site. A shelf by his desk has displays of him with Wilson. His copy of the book, "Charlie Wilson's War," on which the movie is based, has marked pages about projects he was involved with during Wilson's covert war to run the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

In the Wilson building, January said her doors are open to people wanting to know more about the school's programs, which include training for OSHA and other industrial skills.

The LSCO programs use equipment like the industrial plants use. January said the students train in a "hot" lab, meaning the same processes and moves as in a plant. However, there's no "hot" chemicals. She said the students move water around instead. They learn about the chemicals. A large chemical table of the elements is prominent on the wall.

Across campus, Bailey is in a new Electromechanical Technology building. His working lab, too, is filled with industrial equipment and training devices. On a cold, bright morning, he was working with the high school students from Bridge City before a dozen others came in.

One of those students is Alberto Vicuna. He said he was working at an Academy sporting goods store. He had a customer from LSCO who enjoyed his personality and talked him into training for a career. "I can't believe this is really happening," he said about his courses.

A simple way to describe the courses is by using the term "robotics." He teaches students to learn to control and repair devices without human hands. As an example, he talked about the Space Station. Repairs are made "without being able to it" with human hands.

He explains that chemical plants have substances that need different movement devices. The student will train to move things by ways powered like air or electricity and in safe ways.

"Everything in this program really ties into industry," he said.

Bailey said the longtime plants here are needing new employees as the ones reaching ages 55 to 60 are opting to retire.

The days of unions and apprenticeships are not like they were here years ago, and replacements for the retiring workers are not available. "Now, there's a real gap in knowledge," Bailey said.

Industry is needing the workers. And LSCO is trying to keep up with that demand.


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