When opportunity knocks, it pays to open the door.
That lesson isn’t lost on Seann Burks, who left the Navy a decade ago and has spent the remaining years trying to get a foothold on the American dream.
Originally from Jacksonville, Seann went straight in the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school – and spent three years working in aviation electronics as a technician.
After leaving the Navy, he used his GI Bill education benefits to earn a marketing degree from the University of Florida. But when he graduated in 2009 – in the midst of the Great Recession — Seann had trouble finding a steady, good-paying job.
With a family to support, he did what was necessary to pay the bills: He waited tables and worked in call centers, installed cable for local TV cable companies, and bounced around in search of better opportunities, moving from Gainesville to Atlanta to Jacksonville and then back to Orlando.
Still, he couldn’t make ends meet on the wages he was earning – and support his family. Two years ago, he was working three part-time jobs, working 60 hours a week.
So when Seann’s sister told him that Valencia College was offering a six-month course to train students how to be industrial maintenance technicians – and that scholarships were available to pay for the program – Seann was intrigued.
“I needed to find something to do with my life, as far as my skillset and what was available to me,” Seann said.
When he toured Valencia’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, he zeroed in on Valencia’s mechatronics program, a blend of electronics and mechanical engineering technology, that “would let me use my hands and my mind,” he says.
And after classes started, Seann was excited to see that the instructors taught in a hands-on style. “It reminded me of the military’s way of doing things. It’s like an accelerated learning path. Their motto is: We’re going to teach you the things that are necessary and we’re going to apply it practically. That really resonated with me. And, from that point on, I was plugged in.”
Eager to land a job, Seann began applying for jobs while he was still in the course. “I started about three or four months before we graduated. Once I got a couple of certificates under my belt, I thought, ‘Let me start applying so that when I graduate, I can walk out and get hired,’ “ he said.
He interviewed with several companies, including a local theme park that needed technicians to repair and reboot rides that break down, and a national soft-drink maker, before landing a job with a local manufacturer. But a few months after he started that job, Walmart contacted him, and Seann was eager to talk to Walmart’s recruiters.
“Walmart and Amazon are the most innovative companies in the merchandise-distribution field. They’re at the top of their category,” said Seann, who’s 42. “Walmart just opened a fully automated warehouse. To be on the cusp of that, I can only imagine where automation can go as a career.”
Today, Seann earns more than $30 an hour, working full-time at Walmart’s distribution center in Davenport, Fla., where he works three days a week, 12 hours a day. And, although his commute from Seminole County is long, Seann has no complaints.
The job is interesting and the challenges are different every day, he says.
Seann and his colleagues inspect the equipment on a daily basis, maintaining and repairing conveyor belts, hydraulic lifts and electrical lifts, as well as pallet lifts and forklifts. “Anything that’s in the warehouse, we work on — whether it’s lights, computer systems, or integrating computers into equipment. They have some pretty sophisticated conveyor systems.”
And unlike mechanics of old, their toolkit includes a laptop computer. “We carry a laptop with us, throughout the whole shift. We use it to monitor what systems are going down and coming up. We do some programmable logic controllers, which are PC-based, which we use for monitoring and troubleshooting,” he says. “And in some instances, we use the laptops for how-to videos.”
Walmart has also invested in training the technicians. Seann has already flown to Texas twice for more training on sensors – and because of his three-day work schedule, now he’s considering taking an advanced mechatronics program that Valencia College is developing. As Walmart moves toward completely automated warehouse operations, Seann hopes to be a robotics technician – and eventually, a manager.
“I love my job,” says Seann. “I’m very intrigued by it, because I am facing a different scenario every day.”