Andrew Peltier grew up watching his grandpa work on cars. Now the 19-year-old is graduating with his technical diploma in automotive and already has a job at Auto Zone.
Etienne “Devin” Barrilleaux’s dad was a welder. Now he is too, having earned a level-two welding certification.
Both are seniors at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center, which helps students graduatewith technical diplomas in their respective fields.
They were celebrated in front of their peers, parents, district officials and employers at a signing ceremony just like National Signing Day, along with fellow students who earned valuable industry credentials at the center. They’re graduating this month. Soon, they’ll be entering careers in high-wage, high-demand fields.
“This is an opportunity for us to change the way society thinks about career and technical education,” Principal Holly Boffy said. “We have a range of students who have achieved a whole lot in the time they’ve been here. They will walk off our campus and into the workforce with the ability to contribute to society.”
Yerimi Infante, 18, was recognized as Student of the Year for the new auto paint and body program. Instructor Andre Breaux, who runs his own body shop, is beyond excited to see young people being trained in the automotive industry.
“Most of the employees in a shop are 40 years old or older; in 20 years, they’re all going to retire,” Breaux said. “They are highly needed.”
And earning potential is high. Breaux said someone with Infante’s qualifications could make more than $100,000 after about five years of experience in a shop.
Some Career Center seniors, like Peltier, already are working in their fields. Tanner Lemaire is employed by Service Auto Air in Scott, and Tristan Harrison has a job at Utility and Industrial Supply in Broussard. Culinary student Reginald Hull works at Star’s Bakeshop.
Others are still looking but expect to find work soon. Barrilleaux sees himself welding on a pipeline in the near future.
“Our goal in the career center is to help our students get good first jobs,” Boffy said.
Some plan to take a few more classes at South Louisiana Community College to turn a technical diploma into an associate’s degree.
The career center is an extension of high schools in the Lafayette Parish School System. Students attend classes at the center for a three-period block of the school day. Fields of study include machining, cosmetology and medical assistant training.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette seniors get training, ‘good first jobs’ at Career Center