Desk job to Industrial Maintenance Technology program shakes up career path
Jeff Walbert was at a crossroad in his life. He had invested 25-years in his job, was still too young to retire, but had no training to do anything else. “I was really bored sitting at a desk and working at the computer,” he says. I wanted to get back and work on equipment but didn’t have enough knowledge to further that idea.”
He had always had an interest in electrical equipment and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), so he started looking around for classes. “I came across SJVC and went in and looked at the program (Industrial Maintenance Technology – IMT).”
He liked what he saw touring the IMT program on the Modesto campus, but wanted to make certain the certificate program would give him what he needed to successfully change career direction. “I talked with some managers at work and showed them the school’s program material. They said that when they’re hiring mechanics, they look for skill set and schooling. The curriculum SJVC offered matched what they look for.”
Jeff enrolled and began the difficult balance of full-time work and school. His wife, Sharlette, was on board, as were their two adult daughters who no longer lived at home.
“I think they knew I’d make it through it. Once I start something, I usually dedicate myself to it and make sure I succeed.”
He was a natural student and was information hungry. “Prior to the class I didn’t know electrical, hydraulics or PLCs and it was very interesting to me. I was kind of intimidated by the electrical but our instructor, Mr. Sharp, works in the field and had a way to get you to understand the materials so it’s not as intimidating. I got more than I expected from those three classes.”
The Industrial Maintenance Technology program has four modules with each concentrating on a specific area of instruction. “Each session, new groups (of people) come in as others graduate out,” says Jeff. “Some classes probably have close to 30 students. Because I was starting to get a lot better, some (students) were asking me questions and having me help them. For me, helping someone out builds my confidence, too.”
He watched how some students interacted, while others held back. He has an opinion about what creates the best opportunity for success. “Be involved, ask a lot of questions. Don’t sit back on the table and watch others do the work. As soon as they have hands-on, be the first to get up and do the work.”
That interactive classroom style and hands-on learning technique worked well for Jeff. “Mr. Sharp was really good at teaching, showing us material and answering questions. He allowed us to see if we could figure out the problems on our own. We’d wire things up wrong, but we learned from it. He’d tell us, ‘The best way to learn is to make mistakes…and school is the best place to make those mistakes.’” If you don’t have good trouble-shooting skills, you can get lost in a hurry.
“The instructors were great, and the material was really good,” says Jeff. “They made sure that everyone understood the material, then we’d do hands-on to get the material to really sink in. Any questions we had, they were more than willing to help out at any time, even outside school. If graduates out in the field have a question, they are happy to answer them.”
No matter how enjoyable the class, the experience, the learning, it was still a difficult schedule to maintain. “I’d try to do homework during my breaks at work,” says Jeff. “As soon as I got home, I did what I could before bed. On weekends I’d catch up on everything and get ready for the following week.”
Jeff made the Dean’s List, received an Academic Excellence Award, and earned Perfect Attendance. “I didn’t expect to do that well,” he admits. “I was hoping I would, that I would be able to learn and retain, but I was surprised at how well I was able to.”
Close to program completion Jeff applied for a position with Tesla, a 10,000-employee company on the cutting edge of manufacturing electric vehicles. “Everything I’ve heard is that they treat their employees well and are very team-oriented.” He applied for a position and was called in for an interview.
The meeting went well. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Sharp and how well he teaches the material, I wouldn’t have been able to answer all the technical questions they asked me,” says Jeff. “I nailed every question without hesitation.”
The next day Jeff got the call with a job offer. Again, he did not hesitate. As an Equipment Maintenance Technician Jeff is responsible for maintaining and repairing downed equipment. “I work mostly on chain drive systems, motor drives, electrical, robotics, always learning something new,” he says. “But a chain is a chain, the gears are gears; it’s different but the same, too.”
His new work environment is a good professional fit, as well. “I like the culture of the company and the direction it’s going. Everyone works together; no one is just sitting back and directing others. We’re going to win as a team.”
He landed well in his new career. “I’m happy where I’m at right now, but there’s opportunity to advance. I would like to get more into the electrical side and their PLCs, industrial computer and the programs that run the equipment.” Extending his formal education in the technical industry is also a consideration. “I’m thinking about going back and trying to finish up a degree and could probably do something online.”
Jeff knows that road well and remembers those few who struggled in class. He was happy to help them then and is happy to help those, now, who are considering going back to school. His practical advice: “I worked 40-plus hours a week, never missed a day, never late, was married with two 25-year old daughters and two grandkids. I’ve got a busy, hectic life. But the (IMT) program can be completed in as few as 7 months. It’s a sacrifice, yes, but it’s not a forever sacrifice. You can do well in the program and in going into a new career. You’ve just got to really want it…then push for it.”
There was one more thing: “You’ve got to want to do it,” Jeff says. “Want the knowledge and want to learn it. If you’re there for any other reason, you aren’t going to absorb the material.”
Maybe Jeff can set an example for others, as his dad, Dale, set for him. “My dad has always been a real hard worker, really dedicated. Everything is family first. He does whatever he can for his family, kind of what I’ve tried to do. This career move to better myself and my family is also for my kids. It’s to show them that, even at 47, I went through this class, busted my butt to make a career change and do well in that career.”
He sums it up. “It’s never too late.” Jeff doesn’t just say it; he works it.
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