Editor’s note: Pinellas Technical Education Center recently changed their name to Pinellas Technical College.
ST. PETERSBURG — Land maintenance, water systems, traffic operations—these are a few of many essential components that come together to keep a city functioning as it should. At the St. Pete campus of Pinellas Technical College (PTC), 901 34th St. S., St. Petersburg, the Public Works program offers training for careers that are vital to a city’s infrastructure.
Students learn about theory and operation of a variety of fields, which can include wastewater systems, water distribution systems and plant operations. Instructor Ray Gorman says the program serves as an introduction to Public Works and offers an excellent overview of the various career paths.
“We’re broken down to about 14 different career fields,” he explained. “The students are getting an overview of each of those fields so they get a better idea of which one they want to go into as a career source.”
Gorman is one of two full-time instructors and he says there are usually anywhere from 10 to 12 part-time instructors for this program. It is comprised of 450 course hours and takes about 13 or 14 weeks to complete, according to Gorman.
“It’s not just about letting them know what does solid waste do, what does traffic operations do, what street maintenance does,” Gorman stressed, “but we’re also injecting industry certification so that when they leave the program, they’re ready to work.”
Students not only obtain skills through the rigors of hands-on training in such areas as storm water systems and park maintenance, but procure a Class B commercial driver’s license permit and put their skills to use in an internship.
“We’ll interview the students in the first week or so,” Gorman said, “and they’ll select their career fields. They could be working in solid waste, at a waste water treatment plant, they could go into parks and landscaping, street operations—there are many different fields.”
Gorman added that the students go on field trips where they see different operations first hand, putting the theory that they have learned into practice.
“We’ll visit the waste energy plant, we’ll do street operations,” he said. “They’ll talk about a project and then they’ll actually go out and participate and help in patching up a road or whatever the case may be.”
Though certain valuable skills are taught on campus, Gorman said, such as threading a pipe, the majority of the hands-on experience comes during the 195 in-the-field hours the students amass during their internships.
“They’ll go out and work in the city of St. Petersburg, or they’ll be in Seminole or Pinellas Park or anywhere in the county,” he said.
Though students do learn some technical skills, the program is geared more toward career exploration that can help people decide which area of Public Works they’d like to pursue.
“The people who furnish the internships get to test drive the student to see if this is a good future employee,” Gorman stated, “and the student in a sense gets to test drive the career, to see if it’s something they really like.”
Even if students come to PTC to seek help getting into a certain field and ultimately realize that particular one is not for them, they will still have the credentials, Gorman said. He added though the program may adopt some portion of online work for “soft skills” like resume writing, it is important for the students to get “face time” with professionals.
“Nothing replaces the face to face that they get,” Gorman asserted, “because the instructors that come in here and volunteer their time to talk about these different career paths are foremen, supervisors and directors. These are the people they may meet one day when they’re interviewing for future employment. So it’s a great opportunity to network and feel their way out through what is Public Works.”
Instructors do spend time in assisting students with valuable skills in seeking work, including resume writing, filling out applications and how to handle themselves during interviews. Gorman says that there is also an apprenticeship program for those who are already hired, to advance their careers.
“We do a lot of continuing education,” he emphasized, “so we’re not just there when they start their careers with this Public Works program, but we’re there throughout their careers. They keep coming back to us and we look at this as a long-term relationship; a partnership.”
A St. Pete resident, Gorman has been an instructor at PTC since 2005 and has even taught in the army as an instructor for Patriot missiles. He says the importance of a strong work ethic is what he and his fellow instructors strive to impart to their students.
“I can train someone how to work on traffic signals and how to connect pipes together,” he said. “But we really try to instill in our students that the most valuable thing is a good work ethic. That’s what employers want.”
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available. See ad below.