Our readers make things work

Managing Editor Lisa Towers says readers find happiness in making things work.

By Lisa Towers, managing editor

None could be better advocates for the field of maintenance than the readers who have taken the time to write to Plant Services about their career experiences (“Passing It On,” September, p. 11, www.plantservices.com/articles/2008/187.html). These men’s lives are studies in the quintessential American dream: humble beginnings; an interest in taking things apart to see what makes them work and putting them back together again; and a solid start and career training in the armed forces, trade school or apprenticeship. And they had the savvy to recognize early on that great opportunities exist in this field, which is tailor-made for problem-solvers. But what stands out more than their dedication and technical inclination is the love they have for this profession.

One such example is John Christofferson, electrical supervisor for Neenah Foundry Co. in Neenah, Wis., followed through on his early mechanical leanings and turned them into a more than 40-year career in the field of maintenance. “I was very young, walking with my younger brother on the way to school one morning,” he writes. “It was garbage day, and there on top of a pile of stuff on the curb was an old radio. I picked it off the pile and stashed it in some bushes until I could retrieve it later when we returned from school. My brother asked me why I did that. I told him I wanted to see what was inside a radio.”

This curiosity was like “a force within me, that I had to know how things work; what makes them tick,” Christofferson recalls. “I took that radio completely apart, right down to the screws that held it together. I dissected the tubes, the resistors, capacitors, choke coils, everything. Although I didn’t understand why they were constructed the way they were, or what their function was, I knew what was in them. As time went by, I began to develop an ever-growing interest in electrical things.”

He always liked doing things with his hands and working with tools, and he put those skills to work for the U.S. Navy, where he picked up more electronics training. After his service to this country, he returned to the job he held before entering the Navy, at a paper mill in Wisconsin. He enrolled in an electronics technology program at a local technical college while working full-time to support his family and attending school full-time. “It wasn’t an easy task during the two years it took to get my associate’s degree,” he says. But the hard work paid off when he earned a position in the instrumentation department, launching his career in maintenance. Eventually, he became the instrumentation/electrical supervisor at the paper mill.

“I held that position as supervisor until one dark Friday morning in May 2001, when I was told that I was permanently laid off after 35 years of service to the company,” Christofferson recalls. “The age of the computer had finally hit the paper industry where it hurt, and the jobs we had all thought were so secure in the paper industry were on unsteady ground. In November of that year, the plant shut its doors for good.”

He spent a year on unemployment, but never stopped looking for work in the maintenance field. He was hired as an electrician in Michigan, at a plastics plant making parts for the automobile industry. He worked in Michigan for almost two years until he found a job as an electrician in a local Wisconsin foundry and was able to move back to his hometown. He’s now an electrical supervisor and has been with Neenah Foundry Co. for five years.

“Being close to retirement, I can say my career in maintenance has been interesting,” Christofferson says. “For those of you out there considering maintenance as a career choice, you will find a world of opportunity, and a dire need for those persons to fill the many jobs that are becoming vacant. We live in a throwaway society, we outsource everything and people don’t like getting their hands dirty anymore. For those of you who do like to do things with your hands, who like the satisfaction of fixing something electrical/mechanical, then consider the trades. You will find a career path to above-average wages, interesting and challenging work, and a lifetime of accomplishment.”

This feeling of accomplishment is something to be proud of, and something most who work in the industry can relate to. Who will you inspire with your story? Write to us and we’ll do the rest.

E-mail Managing Editor Lisa Towers at ltowers@putman.net.

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