By – Lisa Garrett
Last summer Luis Hernandez’s life changed over the course of a week when his supervisor at JTEKT North America asked him if he would like to enroll at Tri-County Technical College (TCTC) and expand his skill set.
Hernandez has worked in the heat treat department, in material handling and most recently as an assembly operator at the Walhalla facility, over the past six years. His supervisor, Johnny McAlister, components manager at JTEKT, approached him about an opportunity for advancement as an apprentice in the tool and die department.
“He showed me the job requirements and asked if I was interested. I had no experience, but he encouraged me to apply to TCTC and pursue a CNC degree,” said Hernandez, a first-generation college student, who also is the first in his family to graduate from high school. He applied to TCTC and within a week he had completed FAFSA forms, was accepted and signed up for fall classes.
It wasn’t his first time at TCTC. The 26-year-old Walhalla resident entered TCTC’s Criminal Justice program after he graduated from Walhalla High School in 2015. After two semesters, he was undecided about a career path and began working at JTEKT.
In his new role as an apprentice, he works four days a week, 6 a.m. – 2 p.m., and heads to the Industrial Technology Center in Sandy Springs where he is in class from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.
“My supervisor helped me to find the perfect schedule and even modified my days so instead of working four 10-hour days, I can work Fridays for additional hours,” he said.
JTEKT Human Resources Manager Bobby Griffin says he admires Hernandez’s dedication to work and college, adding that “his reliability, work ethic and attitude made him stand out since joining the company in 2017.”
“Luis is a dedicated, valued employee,” said Brian Moore, JTEKT senior human resources generalist. “The fact that he successfully manages being a full-time student while maintaining a full-time work schedule speaks for itself.”
With previous academic credits, he will graduate in 2024 with his CNC degree. “I’m grateful that JTEKT’s tuition reimbursement and a $1,000 Men of Color scholarship from Tri-County Technical College make college possible,” said Hernandez.
In addition to career mobility, Hernandez said returning to college allows him to set an example for his younger sisters. “I want to lead the way for them. I see college in their future.”
As for Hernandez, his goal is to become a supervisor “with the skills and the passion for my craft.”