(SWEETWATER, Texas) – As a child, D.J. Kelley liked seeing and hearing diesel trucks on the road.
While in high school, he decided to make working on diesel trucks a career. He said he knew the best place to train for that career was at Texas State Technical College.
Kelley, who is studying for his certificate of completion, plans to use what he learns in Diesel Equipment Technology at a major diesel company.
“I want to gain my own experience working for a big company and hopefully one day open my own shop,” he said.
Kelley admits that when he began the program after graduating from Abilene High School, he did not have much experience working on vehicles. That did not deter him from beginning his journey.
“After graduating from high school, I did not know if I would go to school to work on autos or diesel,” he said. “I had never worked on a diesel engine before, so I decided that was the route to take to see how it worked.”
Instructor Shannon Weir said several students have started the program with little or no experience.
“We have had students start with little experience. But when they get in the lab and start twisting wrenches, they see how awesome the profession can be,” he said.
Kelley said having some prior knowledge about diesel engines would have been helpful, but experienced instructors and classmates helped him early in the program.
“You learn a lot of different things about a diesel engine,” he said. “The instructors are always willing to help you out. If people are looking at starting the program, having some knowledge will be helpful, but the instructors are going to make sure you know what to do.”
Kelley will have some friends, as well as his brother, joining him as students at TSTC in the fall. When they talked about what he has learned so far, Kelley said they wanted to know more.
“My brother plans to come to TSTC when he graduates high school next year,” he said. “He likes it when I talk about what we learn. I have a couple of friends who will be joining me in the fall that I hope to work with one day.”
When Kelley is not in school, he is working at City Garage in Trent. He said what he learns at TSTC is put to use on the job, and he has found that what he does at work is useful in the lab.
“I have noticed some of the things I learned at work are helpful in the lab,” he said. “When I complete my certification, I know I will have a good sense of knowledge of diesel engines.”
The best way his knowledge is used is by listening at school and work.
“The instructors will show you their way of doing things, and then you work on it your way,” he said. “Then I will have two ideas molded into one that will work for me on the job.”
Kelley said in addition to working on trucks, he plans to study and obtain his commercial driver’s license.
“I have some big ideas for a career, and TSTC is where they began,” he said.
Kelley has seen the need for more mechanics while working in Trent. According to onetonline.org, jobs for bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists are expected to increase 14% in Texas by 2028.. Technicians employed in Texas can earn an annual average salary of $49,810, according to the website.
Diesel Equipment Technology is offered in Fort Bend County, Marshall, North Texas, Sweetwater and Waco. It is part of TSTC’s Money-Back Guarantee program. If a participating graduate does not find a job in their field within six months of graduating, TSTC will return their tuition in full.
TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Diesel Equipment Technology and certificates of completion in Heavy Truck and Off-Highway Specialization.
Registration for the fall semester is underway. Scholarships are available. For more information, visit tstc.edu.