Matt Ball/ Jake Buffaloe
A chance high school elective turned into a career
The novelty of a hands-on elective and the desire to learn a practical skill motivated them to enroll in a dual credit welding class at COM. Ball, then a student at Friendswood High School, and Buffaloe, then a student at Santa Fe High School, gained practical welding experience at COM welding classes five days a week.
“I was just wanting to learn. I wasn’t planning a career,” said Buffaloe. “I started getting good, and the job presented itself.”
COM instructor Victor Woods, who taught both students, noticed their skill early on.
“They were determined to learn,” said Woods.
After high school graduation, both returned to College of the Mainland to work toward an advanced certificate in welding. Woods then asked both to be lab assistants to help the program and other welding students.
Ball also represented COM in a SkillsUSA welding competition, making it to the state level. He later worked in COM’s fabrication shop using his technical skills.
Then a golden opportunity presented itself. Ball and Buffaloe learned of an apprentice program for pipefitters/welders at the BP Texas City plant. They applied for the positions, and BP accepted them for two of the few dozen slots out of thousands of applicants.
They feel their training and work at COM gave them a chance to stand out.
“I think working here helped,” said Ball.
Buffaloe added, “Having that experience [in high school] gave us a start.”
The four-year BP apprenticeship program allows them to continue expanding their skills as they work at BP three days a week and train at COM one day a week.
“Jake and Matt are excellent employees and have performed well in our Department of Labor-approved apprentice program,” said Terry Vowell, BP/USW Pipefitter Apprentice Coordinator.
Their work prepares them for a versatile career, and their training at COM also helps them gain further expertise in welding.
“They have good instructors,” said Buffaloe. “A lot of it is hands-on. We’re not studying a book; we’re actually doing it.”
They feel confident of continuing job prospects in the field.
“It’s a trade that can be used anywhere in the world,” said Buffaloe. “I know quite a few people who tell me they wish they’d done it in high school. They could have had a jump start on a career like we did.”