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Jerry Davich: Underwater welding students make a splash

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Updated: August 20, 2013 11:08PM



Dave Hass is a first-year instructor at Kankakee Valley High School so he figured he would go “all in” with his latest classroom project.

All in the water, that is, introducing his vocational class students to underwater welding using the school’s swimming pool as a test site. Man, what a splash he made.

“I’ve never heard of it being done, so I wanted to give it a try,” said Hass, of DeMotte.

Last week, 10 of his advanced welding students — all juniors and seniors — made 15-minute dives into the pool to apply what they first learned in the classroom. One by one, they dove to the bottom of the pool to work on fabrication with 8-inch flanges and pipe.

“I want to get the students fired up about this trade, and also to think outside the box with their career choice,” Hass told me afterward.

Several weeks ago, his class studied underwater welding and it sparked some interest with the teens. Hass has been hustling ever since to make it a reality, with clearance from school administrators, parental permission, and
key donations from region businesses.

Northwest Indiana American Water Co. donated supplies, and an underwater welding company, Lindahl Marine Contractors Inc., donated supplies plus a hands-on demonstration for students by its owner and president Robert Bailie.

Both companies work with local steel mills on underwater welding projects in Lake Michigan, and both should be applauded for helping to educate the youth of our region. Schools are always in need of such real-world assistance from local businesses, which can pay dividends in the future.

“These experiences are directly related to possible job opportunities in Northwest Indiana,” said Assistant Principal Michelle Meadows, who donated the pipe fitting that was used.

According to the American Welding Society, annual salaries for welder-divers range from $100,000 to $200,000, with the majority paid on a project-by-project basis. Factors such as depth of the water, diving methods and the work environment affect pay rates.

I’m told by local steel mill workers that welder-divers can earn top dollar for jobs along Lake Michigan, and many of them live in other parts of the country but stay in hotels here during long-term underwater projects.

One after another, each KVHS student was equipped with scuba gear, an air tank, flippers and welding tools before diving into the pool. (To view more photos and a video clip, visit http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.)

Those students included Dylan Eckenrod, Tommy Galusha, Jamie Gonzales, Frank Lapota, Martin Perez Rodriguez, Michael Reynolds, David Struble and Shoan Wright. (Two other students, Hunter Brodner and Christopher Vorderer, did not attend the day of the diving.)

“Part of the experience was about bragging rights for the kids,” said Hass, who gave out a small trophy to Lapota for the fastest average time (with Struble just 45 seconds behind him). “The idea behind this project was for it to be a confidence builder for them. I know adults who couldn’t do what these kids did.”

Trades still a good
option for students

A recent CareerBuilder survey of employers from across the country showed that the most promising degrees for college grads include business (31 percent), computer science (24 percent), engineering (17 percent), health care (10 percent), and engineering technologies (9 percent).

But learning a vocational trade is still a viable and well-paying option for region teens, dating back generations with thousands of steel mill and factory jobs along the lakefront.

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department released its latest update on the job market, showing the economy added 165,000 jobs in April, as the unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent. As of March, only 63 percent of the country’s civilian population over age 16 took part in the job market, the lowest rate since 1979.

If any of the KVHS students choose underwater welding as a career, they can find a job anywhere close to bodies of water and industries, Hass noted.

“They can learn a trade and go where ever they want or need to,” he said. “I hope to offer this class project again. It went really well.”

Connect with Jerry via email at jdavich@post-trib.com, voicemail at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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