MINOOKA – They don’t always work in a shop. As welders with Pipe- fitters Local 597, Chris Ingram and Mitch Jessen of Goose Lake can find themselves working on pipelines in a field, inside one of the power plants in the area or in a skyscraper in Chicago.
As part of a two-week series, the Morris Herald-News looked into the opportunities across Grundy County for work and how the area not only is attracting new talent, but also retaining the talent already here.
When they were students at the Grundy Area Vocational Center, they found that there was an element of competition in the craft that attracted both of them.
“It’s really an art,” Jessen said. “Your hand-eye coordination, your consistency. There’s a lot of fine details that people say of welding, and they don’t really know what goes into it.”
They started as upperclassmen going to the program, and credit the program with giving them a solid foundation for the craft.
After high school, both of them joined the Local 597 apprenticeship program.
“One thing we learned through Local 597 and GAVC is the pride,” Jes- sen said. “If you’re going to do some- thing, and you’re going to put your name on it and put your stamp on it, you want to take pride. ... That’s what separates the good from the great.”
Ingram said 90 percent of grading a weld is visual, although there are methods for X-raying a weld to see inside and look for imperfections not visible to the naked eye.
“It’s like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get,” Jessen said. “As long as you’re taught correctly.”
Although they have an in-demand skill that can take them anywhere in the world, Jessen and Ingram both live in Grundy County, where they grew up.
“I like the area,” Ingram said. “I like being able to hang out with my buddies.”
Jessen said he likes the slower pace of Grundy County compared with Chicago or other places. And it is convenient for work, they said, with nearby interstates providing quick access to numerous potential jobs.
Both Ingram and Jessen were taught by GAVC welding instructor Jim Cebulski. Each said his class – and he – had a big impact on their careers and the way they view work.
“He doesn’t play hardball like a teacher right away,” Jessen said. “He’ll communicate with you on your level and asks a lot of questions that let you think in a different way.”
In class, he brings in the competition aspect of welding, as well, which Ingram said appeals to teenagers.
“Everyone wants to be the best out there,” he said. “For us, welding was like our sport. We’d go to that and practice that.”
Cebulski said he originally came to GAVC to help another instructor for a couple of months. He’s been there for 10 years. He doesn’t only teach them how to weld.
“I like seeing kids that the typical academic schools said would go nowhere because they’re not going to college,” Cebulski said. “I find a massive amount of pride in bucking that system.”