Those who grow up in Brazoria County are certainly aware there are jobs available in the chemical plants that built the community. However, the majority of people are probably not aware of just how many different jobs are out there.

Over the past year, bringing an understanding to the breadth of opportunities is exactly what the Workforce Development Committee of the Brazoria County Petrochemical Council has set out to do.

The council has grown to incorporate 20 local manufacturing and distribution companies in the petrochemical industry over the past 30 years, but the Workforce Development Committee is fairly new, having been created in 2018, according to Wendy Irwin, committee chair and the community relations liaison for Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.

With the growth of the

petrochemical industry, careers for people such as welders, pipefitters and operators are projected to increase between 42 and 55 percent in Brazoria County by 2023, she said.

The Workforce Development Committee has four key objectives:

• Attract individuals to skilled jobs and professions in the area;

• Train those individuals in technical skills;

• Hire and retain employees in those professions; and

• Implement practices to enhance workforce productivity.

Right now, the committee is focused on the first objective, Irwin said.

The Workforce Development Committee collaborates with Brazosport and Alvin Community colleges and public school districts, particularly Brazosport ISD, said Mike Albano, council chairman and the North American Environmental Health and Safety director for Dow Chemical Co. One of the collaborative initiatives has been to educate teachers and counselors about the petrochemical industry, "and there's no better way to do that than to see it firsthand," he said.

Local petrochemical companies including BASF and Chevron Phillips have arranged plant tours for teachers and counselors from school districts across Brazoria County as a way for them to lean about local job opportunities in the petrochemical industry.

"These tours allow an active learning not only on the technical jobs like process technology, but also an overall look at how the petrochemical industry has a lot of different support services," Albano said. Tours show how employees are needed across a variety of fields, such as accounting and human resources — and that the need for plant workers is not limited to engineers.

"Some students are interested in the plant because that's all they've heard about, from their parents working in the plant," said Derek Lopez, a health science teacher at Brazoswood High School. "There's always a misconception that the plant is just full of a bunch of engineers and that there's no job for you unless you're an engineer."

During a visit to BASF's Freeport site, Lopez and other educators from Brazosport ISD learned BASF — and other plants in the area — offers an array of jobs for all types of fields, including the health science field.

The BASF site visit included a driving tour of the facilities, a visit to the control room, an informal question-and-answer session over lunch for visitors to mingle with employees, and a career panel discussion during which visitors could rotate between various panels of BASF employees from different departments.

"I teach junior high, so I never know what jobs are out here, and we know from personal

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