In order to help address the workforce needs of the local refining and petrochemical industry, the Calallen Independent School District's Industrial Academy has established the first Process Technology program in the Coastal Bend.

Currently, eight students are enrolled in the Introduction to Process Technology class, but with the addition of more classes in the future, school officials expect the number to increase.

"Port industry companies have a tremendous need for process technicians," said Mike Cain, president of Port Industries of Corpus Christi. "Today and in the coming years, many of our current workers will be retiring; therefore, many challenging, high-paying industrial jobs will be available right here in our community."

Superintendent Arturo Almendarez said the Calallen school district has been planning and working with the regional industry to prepare students to enter the workforce with good-paying local jobs.

"Lyondell, Valero, Kiewit and others have been instrumental in helping us get started," Almendarez said. "Hopefully, if the bond passes in November, we will be able to enhance and expand our Industrial Academy. We have also added a Building Trades program at our high school. We have added a middle school Agricultural Science program. Our plan is to begin teaching our students welding at the middle school. We have added a teacher to our Health Occupation Skills program and plan to expand that program as well."

The Process Technology curriculum is designed to prepare students to pursue a Certification or Associates Degree in Process Technology at Del Mar College and work as a process operator in the petrochemical, refinery, and manufacturing industries.

Lyondell Chemical Co., Valero, and Kiewit Offshore donated equipment for classroom instruction and company personnel assisted in curriculum development.

The Introduction to Process Technology class includes field trips to Del Mar College and Lyondell's Corpus Christi plant. Lyondell will also be providing class speakers throughout the class semester to help students understand the essential role of process operators.

"I applaud Calallen's vision to begin this (process technology) program," Cain said. "This is an excellent example of industry and education working together to equip our students with skills to enter the workforce."

The petrochemical industry today is requiring process operator trainees to have more than a high school degree, prefering an Associate Degree in Process Technology, officials said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65 percent of future jobs will require an associate's degree or advanced training. According to Angela Rowe of WorkSource of the Coastal Bend, an average salary for a process technician is $22 to $30 per hour. According to the TEX-SIS Newsletter, the average annual statewide salary of college graduates with an Associate Degree entering this type of employment is $37,440, and the placement rate is 96 percent.