First Female Industrial Machinery Graduate from Withlacoochee Technical Institute Goes to Work!

A star is born!, or so it seems at least in the case of Desiree Harmon. Harmon is the first female industrial
mechanic hired by Cemex a global company in Brooksville, FL with its parent company in Mexico. Working on machines may sound tough, but Desiree enjoys it all. “I do not see what I do as a man’s or a woman’s work; it’s more about doing what you enjoy” Harmon said. Her success is rooted in her passion and reinforced through formal education and training at Withlacoochee Techcnical Institute in Inverness, FL.

Harmon recently graduated from the Industrial Machinery Maintenance & Repair (IMMR) program at WTI, and is the first female student who successfully completed the program. The IMMR program according to Larry Hensley, instructor for IMMR program at WTI is "based on local workforce needs and caters to local power, chemical and industrial plants in the region." He says the overarching goal is to prepare studens for successful careers in industrial machinery maintenance "where students can reap the benefits of having a trade-based skill."

IMMR program hours at WTI range between 900-1350 hours. This 10 month, rigorous program (which our readers got a brief overview of in Executive Director’s note in the January edition of the Focus) requires 6.5 hours a day/5 days a week. Instruction includes the repair, installation, maintenance and troubleshooting of industrial equipment, pumps and valves. Students learn to use technical manuals, blueprint reading, machining using drill presses, milling machines, lathes, welding and safety. Related instruction includes mathematics computations, employabilityt skills and entrepreneurship. Upon graduation students can also earn the NCCER Industrial Machinery Maintenance Mechanic Certification which is a national certification. "I was never the inside girl. I love working outside and getting my hands down and dirty" said Harmon. She says the knowledge and skills she gained through the program is transferable across many industries and has definitely given her a competitive edge.

The IMMR program is in its 5th year with almost 50 who have graduated from the program so far.
Graduates are hired by local power plants through the Millwrights Local 1000 of Tampa. “We have been able to get everyone hired by local power plants with all of our students achieving journeyman status” said Hensley. The average student, according to Hensley, from those who have just graduated to those who have been employed in the field earn an average of $85,000 plus benefits. "I love the work that I do, and I don't know how I would raise a family if I didn't have a skilled trade" said Harmon.

Despite great benefits the ratio of women graduating from the program is still very low. With the exception of Harmon, female students, according to Hensley struggle to remain in the program. The biggest impediment for female students, he says, is not only the nature of the job, family related responsibilities, or the number of hours required to graduate, but also a lack of awareness and targeted initiatives to recruit women to these programs/careers. To that end, Harmon is a model student who despite working full time and being a mother of three children has successfully completed the program. “I would  recommend any single mothers to take an interest in welding and machining as it is a great way to provide a good life for your family" said Harmon. "You have to remain focused on the job. From there on the possibilities are endless.” 

For more information on the WTI MMR program contact Larry Hensley at HensleyL@citrus.k12.fl.us or 352.726.2430. For information on FLATE and resources focused on educating/attracting women to STEM visit www.madeinflorida.org or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org.