Monday, March 23, 2015

Searching for a Real Career (My Job Journey Part 5)

Returning from Poland, (see this post for background) my first priority was to get work so I could sponsor my wife to become a landed immigrant.  My Dad found me a job at the OSB (Oriented Strand Board) plant he was working at.  I was hired on as a general labourer.  Here's an outline of the lessons I learned there:

OSB Plant, paid by the hour (fall 1995 - spring 1997)
  • Shift work is not easy - frankly, it can be dangerous. It's not for everyone.  I worked 12 hour shifts, 4 days on, 4 days off, and switch from days to nights every set of off days.  Shift transition 'hangover' between shifts were challenging.  Many times I fought to stay awake on the drive home from work.
  • Think twice before you do something where you could get hurt.  I started as a general labourer doing cleanup.  The winter we had some large icicles from on the roof of one of the buildings.  Thinking they were a safety hazard, I tried to knock them down with a shoved.  I miscalculated their size and what they'd do when broken off, and one knocked off my hard hat and hit me in the head.  I had to go to the hospital for stitches.  
  • Back injuries affect everything.  After some time I moved up to running a 'waferizer' - essentially a blender for wood.  Using pickaroons, we had to ensure the wood blocks entered the waferizer at a proper angle.  These wood blocks could be heavy and I strained my back trying to move one.  After getting home that night, the pain was so bad I could hardly breathe and I could feel it every move I made.   
  • Unionized work isn't for everyone.  It can lead to some silly situations turning petty differences into a dispute that could terminate your employment.  You'll rarely reach your full potential working in a unionized plant/factory.  Promotions and/or better positions are based on seniority (how long you've worked at the plant).  The longer you've worked there, the more seniority you have.

After several months in the OSB plant, I could not see myself working there for the rest of my life.  I started to search for a 'real career' - something I could see myself doing for the next 30-40 years.  At first, accounting seemed like a great option.  Every business, no matter the industry, needs accountants and I was good with numbers.  I discovered I could start taking accounting classes from home through the University of Athabasca.  I enrolled in a beginning accounting course and started working on assignments.  What I didn't 'account for' (pardon the pun) was how difficult with would be to do the course work alone and dealing with a shift work transition 'hangover.'  This was one of my first lessons in understanding my 'learning style'.  I eventually dropped the course and tried not to see it as a failure.  I had to move on and find something else....

Air Traffic Controller...?
Not long after that, I found a advertisement in the paper that NavCanada was looking to hire Air Traffic Controllers.  There was a preliminary math test candidates needed to write, and if they passed that and a subsequent personal interview, NavCanada would hire them and pay for their training.  I applied for the position, wrote the math exam and passed it.  I read plane magazines, books, and practiced more trigonometry to prepare for my interview.  When the time came, I met with couple of air traffic controllers and they grilled me on more math questions and why I was interested in the job.  After one particularly hard math question, they asked me 'are you sure?' and I said 'I think so.'  Apparently the lack of commitment and conviction in that answer sealed my fate.  Air Traffic controllers need to be firm, definitive, and exact.  My hesitant 'I think so' didn't cut it.

Printing Pressman...?
Searching through the paper again (this was before job postings were put on the internet), I found a posting in a nearby city in which a company was looking to hire another shift of pressmen.  I applied and after a lengthy process a group of us got hired.  Three weeks after starting work there, the contract they hired us for fell through and they laid us all off.  I had left a secure job at the OSB plant and moved to a new city for this position, so I wasn't very happy.  I called their head office (in the States) and nicely told them that I didn't think we had been treated very well.  After some back and forth with them over a period of a couple of weeks, they agreed to pay us a better severance package.  Through this I learned that workers should stand up for their rights and sometimes the little guy can get heard.  It was a good thing too, because I couldn't find another paying job for several months after that.

Printing was a skill I had the most expertise in at the time, so it made sense for me to try and find another job as a pressman.  I eventually found one, and I ended up working there for three and half years.

This is a Goss Community web press configured
in a similar way to what we ran.  There's a
web splicer on the right, a '4-high' stack on printing
units in the middle, and an anvil folder just to
the left of that.  Our press had 5 splicers, 2 anvil
folders, and 18 printing units.
Pressman, 1997-2001  paid by the hour ($14.50 - $18.63/hr) This newspaper printing outfit was some of the most intense work of my life.  My mind was so engaged during this time that I still dream about working here over 15 years later.
  • Initially I didn't have enough experience for the position I was hired for.  This made things a bit stressful for everyone at first.  I was in fact demoted and had to wait extra long for a pay raise because of this.
  • This print shop wasn't unionized, so we worked hard, sometimes through lunches.  
  • I was pushed to learn a lot, and that's exactly what I did and I felt good about everything I accomplished there.  I made it back to the position I was hired for and I was respected for the work that I did.  
  • It was dangerous work as the press was old and there were pinch points everywhere.  You had to clean the press while it was on.  Paper rolls where hundreds of pounds.
  • A good attitude and a willingness to forgive can open doors.  There was a lot of frustration when I started because I couldn't pull my own weight.  A running joke on the team was everyone would ask me 'Are you dumb, yet?'  With all the hearing protection we had to wear, I would hear 'Are you done, yet?' and nod my head.  Hard work, a smile, and a willingness to learn helped me gain the respect of everyone and be a good influence there.

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