WBEZ | welding http://www.wbez.org/tags/welding Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Blacksmiths: The 'plastic surgeons' on Chicago's payroll http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/blacksmiths-plastic-surgeons-chicagos-payroll-113688 <p><p>Our questioner, Joel, describes himself as a nerdy, curious guy who likes playing with data. When the City of Chicago <a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Administration-Finance/Current-Employee-Names-Salaries-and-Position-Title/xzkq-xp2w">published its payroll data</a>, he thought it would be fun to look and see what was there.</p><p dir="ltr">And he did find a surprise.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I was just scrolling through, and I saw &lsquo;blacksmith,&rsquo;&rdquo; he recalls. As in, the city employs one. &ldquo;Like, did my eyes deceive me?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">A couple of mouse-clicks later, he found out how many blacksmiths the city employs. Then, he posted on Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>The city just released their budget and employee info on the open data portal. I noticed that Chicago has 20 blacksmiths! What do they do?</em></p><p>The word &ldquo;blacksmith&rdquo; conjures up an image of glowing-hot metal getting pulled from a big furnace and pounded into some usable shape &mdash; maybe a horseshoe &mdash; on an anvil. Maybe the light in this image comes from the furnace flame, since blacksmithing thrived for millennia before electric lights. The whole scene seems ancient, or at least old-fashioned.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ss_eac_fa_a235_large_0.jpg" style="height: 452px; width: 620px;" title="A 1914 depiction of a blacksmith from a James Wallace painting titled Blacksmith, Midday in the Smiddy. (Photo courtesy East Ayrshire Council)" /></div><p>So, why would the notoriously cash-strapped City of Chicago employ more than 20 of them, at salaries of about $90,000 a year?</p><p>That&rsquo;s the essence of the question we got from Joel. He&rsquo;s asked us not to use his last name because he works for local government, and his boss, understandably, thought the question might make political higher-ups uncomfortable. Again, Joel promises he wasn&rsquo;t being snarky, just curious. Still, the city&rsquo;s mounted police unit only has about 30 horses: How many horseshoes could they need?</p><p>It turns out, there&rsquo;s a perfectly-reasonable story &mdash; or, almost-perfectly-reasonable &mdash; and it has nothing to do with horseshoes. (The city hires a farrier for that trade).</p><p>In pursuing it, we did find a living link from the ancient art of blacksmithing to the city&rsquo;s operations.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">The city&rsquo;s plastic surgeons</span></p><p dir="ltr">So, then: What do the city&rsquo;s full-time blacksmiths actually do?</p><p dir="ltr">To find out, I visit blacksmith Luke Gawel at his work &mdash; a city plant at 52nd Street and Western Avenue, with two giant repair bays for trucks.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WIDE%20shop%20FOR%20WEB.png" style="height: 397px; width: 620px;" title="A plant at 52nd Street and Western Avenue houses the city vehicles that need some blacksmith repair work. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p dir="ltr">Here&rsquo;s how Gawel describes the job: &ldquo;We are like the plastic surgeons of the City of Chicago. The only difference is we haven&rsquo;t gone to medical school.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Their patients are the city&rsquo;s trucks: garbage trucks, ambulances, and fire trucks. But like people, these patients don&rsquo;t take off-the-shelf parts.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Every truck is almost custom,&rdquo; says Gawel. &ldquo;The city has them custom-built for their specs. When they get smashed, when they get damaged, you can&rsquo;t just go online ... [to] Amazon and get a panel. You have to build it, and then you have to install it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">On the day I visit, Gawel has picked a small job to demonstrate what he does: welding a step back onto a garbage truck &mdash; the kind a worker rides on, at the back.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/welder1.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="City blacksmith Luke Gawel welds a step back on to a garbage truck. This is one of the smaller jobs a city blacksmith can do, he says. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p dir="ltr">He grinds off some paint and grime, and sets up his MIG welder. &nbsp;Then he applies the heat.</p><p dir="ltr">Less than a minute later, he&rsquo;s done. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s good to go,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You can hang on it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Except: Grease on the bottom of the newly-welded step is on fire.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s probably a little warm to touch,&rdquo; Gawel admits. &ldquo;You can fry an egg on it, but &mdash; you let it cool off, throw some paint on it, and that&rsquo;s it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">This is a small job, but Gawel spends a lot of time on bigger ones: replacing the sides of trucks, the floors, the big mechanical elements in back of a garbage truck that smush the trash. If you can&rsquo;t repair these big, basic parts, you&rsquo;d have to junk the whole vehicle.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;we do save the city a lotta money.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">With a city fleet that includes 477 garbage trucks, 203 fire engines, 101 street sweepers, and 122 ambulances, Gawel and his colleagues have plenty to do.</p><p dir="ltr">In the winter, the city adds 333 salt spreaders and snow plows to the fleet &mdash; what Gawel&rsquo;s boss calls &ldquo;wear items&rdquo; &mdash; and twenty full-time blacksmiths isn&rsquo;t enough. <a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Administration-Finance/Employee-Overtime-and-Supplemental-Earnings-2014/9xua-tabs">The overtime numbers</a> are insane: more than $65,000 just for February 2015.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Is &lsquo;blacksmith&rsquo; the right word?</span></p><p dir="ltr">Given that the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;blacksmiths&rdquo; clearly spend the vast majority of their time welding, why not dispense with calling them such? After all, the number of workers employed as blacksmiths is clearly on the downswing.</p><p dir="ltr">The number of full-time blacksmiths in the U.S. peaked about a hundred years ago, when the U.S. Census Bureau counted 235,804.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/blacksmith%20chart%20edit.png" style="height: 333px; width: 620px;" title="The number of blacksmiths started declining when other old-line trades, like carpentry, were still growing. By 1920, the number of people working in modern, competing occupations — like machinist and electrician — surpassed the number of blacksmiths. (Source: U.S. Census)" /></div><p dir="ltr">Forty years later, in 1950, the <a href="http://www.bls.gov/mlr/1999/05/art2full.pdf">Bureau of Labor Statistics found that fewer than one in five of those jobs remained</a>. Following another thirty years of decline, the BLS found that three-quarters of those jobs were gone too, and it stopped counting.</p><p dir="ltr">Until he came to work for the city, Luke Gawel would not have counted himself among this ancient and dying breed, although the work he did in previous jobs was quite similar to what he now does for the city.</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, he stumbled onto this job because he found the job title just as incongruous &mdash; just as curious &mdash; as Joel did.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One day, I was just scrolling through the city&rsquo;s website, and I saw a blacksmith,&rdquo; Gawel recalls. &ldquo;I was like, &lsquo;What? Blacksmith!?&rsquo; I couldn&rsquo;t believe it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">He clicked on the job description and, as it happened, it described the work he was already doing in a private shop: using plasma cutters, acetylene torches, and welding tools.</p><p dir="ltr">Actually, <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dhr/supp_info/JobSpecifications/JobSpecName/BLACKSMITH_6605.pdf">the job description also mentions heating metal in a forge</a> &mdash; a blacksmith&rsquo;s furnace &mdash; but the city hasn&rsquo;t owned a forge for years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We had one downtown, when I first started,&rdquo; says Gawel&rsquo;s colleague Chuck Miggins, a city blacksmith since 1999. &ldquo;But we never used it, and it&rsquo;s obsolete.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">So, why does the City of Chicago still use the title &ldquo;blacksmith&rdquo;?</p><p dir="ltr">Leo Burns, Managing Deputy Commissioner for the Human Resources Department agrees it&rsquo;s a good question. But, he says, it&rsquo;s still the official job title.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s in our bargaining agreement. We have an agreement with the <a href="https://www.boilermakers.org/">International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.</a>&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">You could translate that answer as: bureaucratic inertia. Changing it hasn&rsquo;t come up, and could be a hassle.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Burns says the outdated title is not causing the kind of problem that would get his attention. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t remember anyone saying we need a new title because we&rsquo;re not attracting candidates,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="pozniak"></a>Last of the real city blacksmiths?</span></p><p dir="ltr">I did talk with someone who worked the &ldquo;obsolete&rdquo; forge that city blacksmith Chuck Miggins remembers &mdash; a person who connects Miggins and Luke Gawel with the ancient image of a man (or a <a href="http://www.britannica.com/topic/Vulcan" target="_blank">Roman god</a> or <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=goddess+brigid+blacksmithing&amp;espv=2&amp;biw=1600&amp;bih=791&amp;tbm=isch&amp;tbo=u&amp;source=univ&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CDYQsARqFQoTCM-Doa_R-sgCFQEmHgodDHgGRg">Celtic goddess</a>) pounding on glowing-hot metal.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We always had somebody working on the fire, who worked the forge,&rdquo; says Richard Pozniak, who retired from the city&rsquo;s blacksmith force in 1993. The man on the fire would &ldquo;do things like straighten bumpers, make chains, special hooks,&rdquo; he says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZcollage2.png" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Richard Pozniak, now 85, was the last City of Chicago blacksmith to work on the forge. Pozniak kept forging in his own shop for years after he retired, though, and has become a bit of a Chicago legend. (Photos courtesy New York State Designer Blacksmith newsletter archives and Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I was one of the last ones working on the fire.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">When Pozniak signed on with the city in 1950, old-school blacksmiths were already almost gone.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;By that time they only had one blacksmith,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;One real blacksmith &mdash; that worked on the fire.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Just one &mdash; out of what he remembers as 30 or 40 city blacksmiths. The rest were already doing basically the same work that Luke Gawel and Chuck Miggins do today: cutting pieces with gas torches, joining them with welds.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s how Richard Pozniak spent his first ten years as a city blacksmith, but working on the fire had always been his goal. When his chance came, about ten years into his service with the city, he took it, and kept it till he retired.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZorama.jpg" style="height: 136px; width: 620px;" title="A panoramic photo of Richard Pozniak's basement. (Photo courtesy Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr">A few years afterwards, the city idled its forge, but Richard Pozniak kept working his own fire &mdash; in a shop in his basement &mdash; making decorative items and tools.</p><p dir="ltr">Until now. At age 85, he&rsquo;s closing up shop.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I can no longer even get down to the basement to get around,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an inevitability I had to accept.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Over the years, peers in the blacksmithing world had referred to him as a master. Among the tools that Richard Pozniak made are tongs of his own design, which artisan blacksmiths and hobbyists around the country now make and use. They&rsquo;re known as Poz tongs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZdiptych.png" style="height: 332px; width: 620px;" title="A sample of Pozniak's work, left, and a few pairs of legendary 'Poz tongs,' right. (Photos courtesy Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr"><em>For more about Richard Pozniak, check out <a href="http://www.studio360.org/story/117544-artsmith/">this story about him from the show Studio 360</a>, by his son-in-law, radio producer Peter Clowney.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><a href="http://danweissmann.com/">Dan Weissmann</a> is a reporter and radio producer in Chicago. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/danweissmann">@danweissmann</a></em></p></p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 16:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/blacksmiths-plastic-surgeons-chicagos-payroll-113688 Community college partners with private business to fill jobs http://www.wbez.org/content/community-college-partners-private-business-fill-jobs-0 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-29/Photo_MichiganPubPrivate_JocelynFrank.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>As the Great Lakes region continues to face high rates of unemployment, many manufacturing workers find themselves laid off and lacking credentials to find new work. State-funded agencies are teaming up with community colleges and private businesses to help get workers back into jobs. The strategy is called public-private partnership and has support from several governors in the region and even President Obama.</p><p>In Marshall, Mich., Deidre Hosek is a big fan of the approach. It threw her a lifeline when she was laid off in 2007.</p><p><strong>Meet Deidre Hosek</strong><br><br>Hosek is a regular at the Riverside bar, just a few blocks off the main street of Marshall. It’s an easy to miss location. The smoky gray wooden façade has no outward facing windows, but step inside and two TVs and a jukebox light up the room. Hosek sits alongside six others sipping Miller Lite. She’s about 5'5" with long brown hair, solid confidence, and a bold, raspy laugh.<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-29/Photo_MichiganPubPrivate_JocelynFrank.JPG" style="width: 275px; height: 206px; margin: 2px 10px; float: left;" title="Using her training from the local community college, Diedra Hosek works at Tenneco Automotive as a welder. (Photo courtesy of Calhoun Michigan Works)"></p><p>This is her place to unwind. She remembers growing up in Marshall with big ideas about what it would mean to be an adult and work a regular job.</p><p>“I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a singing star,” Hosek said, adding that at Riverside bar she gets to be a singer now and then, “that’s why I try and come down here. One of my neighborhood buddies runs the open mic.”</p><p>Hosek raised two kids in Marshall and, like many of her neighbors and friends, she worked for the auto industry. In her case, it was as a prototype technician working with vinyl, plastics, and leathers at the Lear Corporation. It was a solid living wage but when times got tough the company downsized and moved operations out of state, Hosek was left in a lurch.</p><p>“If I wanted to move out of state, I could have gone to another Lear plant,” she said. “But all of my family is here, and I have no desire to leave my family."</p><p><strong>Living unemployed</strong></p><p>Instead of leaving, Hosek and her family lived off her 401(k) for two years. Eventually, she found a gig working overnight at the Shell gas station convenience store. A customer there tipped her off that the state-funded agency Michigan Works was interviewing candidates for factory work in town. She raced over to apply.</p><p><strong>Never welded before</strong></p><p>Fast-forward four years and Deidre Hosek is a welder at Tenneco, an international auto-parts manufacturer. In Marshall, they make mufflers. The first thing she needed to learn was how to fuse two pieces of metal together to make a bead.</p><p> <style type="text/css"> div .inline { width: 290px; float: left; margin-right: 19px; margin-left: 3px; clear: left; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: 0pt 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }div .inlineContent { border-top: 1px dotted rgb(170, 33, 29); margin-bottom: 5px; margin-top: 2px; }ul { margin-left: 15px; }li { font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: 0pt 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }</style> </p><div class="inline"><div class="inlineContent"><a href="/frontandcenter"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-06/FC-logo-sm_0.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 38px;" title=""></a><ul><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-11-28/great-lakes-workers-faring-better-canadian-side-border-94389">Workers faring better in Canada</a></strong></li><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/using-sound-find-leaks-and-save-dollars-94303">Using sound to find leaks and save dollars</a></strong></li></ul></div><div class="inlineContent">&nbsp;</div></div><div>“I’d never run a bead before in my life,” Hosek said, laughing. “The closest I’d come to running a bead was a caulk around my sink."<br><p>Even with her lack of experience, Michigan Works was confident she could succeed. Hosek became one of thousands of people in Michigan to benefit from public-private programs to help the workers find jobs locally.</p><p><strong>How it works, the private side</strong></p><p>A company like Tenneco needs highly skilled welders. The plant manager at Tenneco in Marshall, Randy Rial, says it’s not that easy to find them.</p><p>“Many people can weld but when the people come in here and say I can weld anything, but this is different. We work very fast at very high heat,” &nbsp;Rial explained. “They come in here and it’s very difficult to learn.”</p><p>In 2007 the company started welding with a new, very thin, very expensive metal. Their welders failed, over and over. It cost the company a lot of money. Rial remembers that was a time when many other factories were closing their doors.</p><p>“Eaton closed down, Lear closed down, a lot of other plants closed down,” Rial remembered.&nbsp; “We have to do everything we can do to be competitive in the global market.”</p><p><strong>How it works, the public side</strong></p><p>Training specialized welders is difficult and expensive so the public side of the partnership plays a big role. George Bauer is a representative of the state-funded Michigan Works Association. He's been on the front lines of the recession.</p><p>“Michigan was in it before everyone else and we’re hoping we won't be the last to come out of it,” Bauer said.</p><p>Bauer’s witnessed the bloodletting-- with 40, 50, 100 local workers laid-off at one time. He talks to workers to prepare them for inevitably hard times ahead, but if he can, Bauer prefers to step in before a company downsizes or leaves town. When Bauer learned about the challenges at Tenneco, he called a meeting right away and made the company an offer.</p><p>“Our deal with the company was that if we’re paying for the training, you’ll guarantee to hire them at the end,” Bauer said.</p><p>Tenneco agreed to hire new welders. To do the actual training, Michigan Works tapped Kellogg Community College in the nearby town of Battle Creek.</p><p><strong>The flexibility of community colleges</strong></p><p>Dennis Bona is the president of Kellogg Community College. He’s learned the key to the succeeding with the business world is flexibility.</p><p>“We tailor instruction to fit what employer needs. We know there are no careers we train once for,” Bona explained. “Tenneco came to us and said we need 60 welders trained and we need them soon.”</p><p>So Bona and Kellogg Community College worked with Tenneco to design and supply a quick 8-week program with something called open-exit, open-entry. That meant students didn’t have to wait for a new semester for classes to begin. And that responsiveness meant Tenneco saved money.</p><p>In the end Tenneco hired over 60 welders, and the relationship between the college and the company continued. Bona said Kellogg has trained and educated about 1000 Tenneco employees. They work with 150 other companies across southern Michigan.</p><p><strong>Deidre Hosek turns into a welder</strong></p><p>The partnership between Michigan Works, Kellogg, and Tenneco gave the company some additional support to stay in town and hire in town. In 2007, that was a godsend for Deidre Hosek. She was struggling to find well-paid work.</p><p>“There was nothing," Hosek said. "I didn’t think finding a job would be that difficult.”</p><p>She didn’t have a college degree or other technical training to lean on, but with the public-private education plan in place she was able to jump right in and start something completely new.</p><p>&nbsp;“I had no idea I would go back to school, but it was just boom boom boom,” she said of the training. “We had the classroom time and the actual hands-on welding time...that was fun.”</p><p><strong>Staying in the community</strong></p><p>With a steady paycheck now in her pocket, Deidre Hosek can afford to stop by Riverside for open-mic night and unwind with her longtime friends.</p><p>“I like being where everybody knows your name," she said. "You’re not just a number.”</p><p>Eight-weeks (the length of her training course) and four years later, Hosek is proud to be a welder. But at the Riverside bar, standing in the spotlight with her neighborhood buddies cheering her on, belting out Marshall Tucker lyrics during the open-mic night, sometimes she still feels a little like a singing star.</p></div><p><em>A correction has been made to this story. An earlier version misspelled the Lear Corporation.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Nov 2011 13:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/community-college-partners-private-business-fill-jobs-0