by Steven Kissinger


Bethany Clay studied criminal justice at Clewiston High School for all four years, graduated andwas well on her way to a career in the field. Then she took a tour of Immokalee Technical Center and the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program. “I kind of fell in love,” she said.

Heavy Equipment Mechanics, a two-year post secondary program, is an unexpected choice for girls, Clay acknowledged. But it was the right choice for her. She became the first female to graduate from the program a few months ago. “I like it because it doesn’t just require physical abilities; it requires you to think things through. And you’re never going to go to work and do the same thing every day.”

After the first year of the program, the students apply for a 10-week internship in which the pay ranges from $14 to $17 an hour,” explained Career and Internship Manager Elda Hernandez of The Immokalee Foundation. “Then the students return to complete the second year and earn their Automotive Service Excellence certifications. Once completed, job offers are usually $22 an hour or higher.”

Clay interned with U.S. Sugar, where she worked on the harvesters, rebuilt a water pump, changed out belts, replaced an elevator chain and rebuilt hydraulic pumps.


Emily Trevino recently finished her first year in the HEM program. She took aptitude tests that showed her she was good at mechanics. So she took a tour, was impressed and enrolled.

Her parents were a bits hocked, she said with a laugh. “But they knew I could do it. Because of the way I grew up – on a farm.“ My brother was always trying to teach me mechanics, but I never took it seriously. And then I took the test and scored really high. He said, ‘See, that’s what you’re good at.’”

Sometimes she feels as though she has to convince her classmates, who are all male. But the teachers “don’t treat us any different,” Trevino said.

The Immokalee Foundation launched the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program in the fall of 2010, under the guidance of Don Fites, former CEO of Caterpillar Inc.

Fites played a key role in developing the public-private sector collaboration that raised money to create the program. That partnership included the Caterpillar Foundation, Fites Family Charitable Trust, Kelly Foundation Inc., Kelly Tractor and Collier County School District.

TIF’s two-year HEM program includes practical experience in engine operation, rebuilding diesel engines, hydraulic system testing, heavy equipment fleet maintenance and rebuilding transmissions, along with specialized skills in electronics, such as the use of manufacturers’ diagnostic tools.

HEM offers students who aren’t bound for college the training for a well-paying job that is in demand.

“There is a waiting list because many students realize there is a huge call for knowledgeable heavy equipment service techs,”said Hernandez.

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, including volunteering, becoming a mentor, making a donation or any other information, call 239.430.9122 or visit Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation, can be reached at

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