Launching Lucrative Careers at Sac City College
News Center – December 2019
What does a lucky cup of coffee, a supportive professor and the Mechanical-Electrical Technology (MET) department at Sacramento City College have in common?
They all helped alumnus Abraham Arellano get over his slump and back on track to his career goals.
Arellano had been struggling to find a job as an electrician and was working in the Sac City cafeteria, trying to make ends meet while earning the MET Certificate and taking ESL classes.
One night, Arellano’s instructor Jonathan Zeh came in for coffee and was taken aback when he saw his talented student working as a barista.
“He knew I used to be an electrician in Mexico,” says Arellano, who worked in the field for more than 15 years before returning to America. “So he asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Though Arellano had been born in the United States, all of his work experience was from Mexico. And because he didn’t have a degree, companies weren’t hiring him.
As Zeh sipped his coffee, he became determined to help.
Remembers Arellano: “Two weeks later, he asked me for my phone number [and] said, “I’ve got a job opportunity for you.”
It turned out to be two opportunities – connections with two potential positions in the local power industry. Arellano picked the one he liked the best, applied, and was hired by a solar company in short order. He continued to work full-time for five years while chipping away at his college degree in his spare time.
His supporters at Sacramento City College didn’t stop there. As Arellano was completing his studies, an assistant instructor gave him a tip about another job – this one at Anheuser-Busch — and connected him with the manager.
The rest is history. Arellano has since completed his MET certificate and gone to work for the beer giant’s operation maintenance team, and soon he will be celebrating his six-year anniversary in the packaging department.
”I am one of the electricians in charge of making sure the filler machine that puts the beer into the cans is working well,” says Arellano. Meanwhile, he monitors the quality of the beer according to the specs, the conveyors, the capping machine — and basically everything that gets the beer from brew tank to bottle.
“For 12-ounce cans, the filler is running 2,000 cans per minute,” says Arellano about the decidedly “macro” brewing operation. “During 24 hours, we might have like a million and a half cans.”
It’s a fast-paced job with many responsibilities, and Arellano is incredibly grateful to Sacramento City College for preparing him to enter the workforce.
“Every single class in the program was very helpful,” he relates. “Thanks to God, my instructors, and classmates, I feel I got the job I have today.
“I never imagined I could have a job like this.”
To his favorite instructor, connecting students like Arellano to workforce opportunities is just another day at work.
“We’re always trying to get somebody a job,” says Zeh, himself an alumnus of the MET program at Sac City College. “The basic skill set and knowledge that our students are taught can apply to a lot of different occupations.”
The program’s curriculum covers commercial heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration — everything from reading a tape measure to “programming some sophisticated controls,” according to Zeh. Grads like Arellano go on to a wide variety of jobs in related fields, working in cogeneration plants, the wastewater industry, the food industry, and even keeping casinos running smoothly in the gaming industry.
“It’s a very wide occupational field,” says Zeh. “You’re not pigeonholed into one specific type of job.”
Driven by regional demand, many students gravitate toward HVAC careers. One common career path puts grads to work as stationary engineers, handling the environmental controls in office buildings and keeping retail consumers cool.
“About any place you find heating and cooling, you’ll find HVAC technicians,” says Zeh. “That seems to be a real hot topic with our grocery stores, making sure the ice cream stays frozen.
“It’s a lot of money if it melts.”
And with its robust network of program alumni and workforce partners, the program catapults students into a variety of in-demand careers, often while they are still in school.
“We’re in contact with the industry because all of the instructors here came from the HVAC industry,” explains Zeh. “We’ve had these relationships for 20 to 30 years.”
Sacramento City College’s program was established in 1952, and from public entities to private businesses, Sac City’s reputation for producing quality employees is well established. Says Zeh: “I get phone calls all the time from people saying, ‘Hey, we need somebody…’ I feel really bad because there’s no way we can keep up with it.”
Indeed, there is a booming industry gap in the region, due in large part to looming retirement among the ‘baby boomer’ generation, and “there’s really nobody coming in to fill that gap.” Meanwhile, demand for new construction persists, serving to compound the problem.
“The industrial maintenance mechanic demand is as high as 26 percent in some areas,” reports Zeh, who says that with Strong Workforce support, his department will be starting a new program in Fall 2020 to address that specific gap. As for the HVAC industry as a whole, demand is skyrocketing — expanding by 23 percent in Sacramento County, according to the Employment Development Department.
Zeh estimates that 90 percent of students from the program find jobs quickly in the field. Many begin with a head start, as the instructor encourages students to apply for jobs during their second semester.
And because demand is high, the jobs pay handsomely.
“Wages keep going up,” says Zeh. “You don’t have to have a four-year degree to make $100,000 a year. You just have to have the knowledge to be able to install and fix systems.”
It starts with hands-on training. One particular secret to Sac City’s success is its state-of-the-art “living labs,” where students get real experience using industry-standard equipment.
“We have one of the best training facilities in the United States, and I can honestly say that,” says Zeh, who has traveled and connected with programs all over the United States and Canada.
The lab encompasses about 16,000 square feet, hosting an enormous and diverse array of systems. Recently, Strong Workforce and industry partners helped put in new Variable Frequency Drives – a critical component used to regulate speeds on electric motors. The department also has all new Programmable Logic Controllers, new refrigeration labs where students learn assembly and wiring, electrical labs, control labs, and two computer labs featuring a total of 50 machines. The bright-red cherry on top? A fully functional boiler room.
“I think we may be the only institution west of the Mississippi that actually has an operating steam boiler,” says Zeh.
And thanks to Strong Workforce funding, the department has recently started a new day program, affording more student access than ever to this cutting-edge equipment.
“We’ve actually been able to have a lot more graduates,” relates Zeh. “Our numbers keep climbing.”
Strong Workforce funding is also helping Zeh to perform outreach to local high schools, to spread the word on bright futures in Mechanical-Electrical Technology. And with regional Strong Workforce support, he’s helping other community colleges like Butte College to start new programs.
For Arellano, now earning a living in a career he loves, Sacramento City College was more than just a launching pad – it was an inspiration.
“I never did think I could be at this position,” he reflects. “[Sac City College] gave me the tools to go farther.
“And I feel this is just the beginning.”