On Campus: The electrician

chris_dillman.jpgChris Dillman, a Baudette, Minnesota native, has seen the the economic meltdown up close. He’s one of the people who jumped before he could give it the satisfaction of pushing him.

The Air Force veteran was working for a pharmaceutical company in Baudette as an electronics calibration technician. “With things getting tight and cutbacks, it was inevitable that there was going to be layoffs so I resigned,” he told me during my stop at Lake Superior College in Duluth, where he’s studying to be an electrician.

Dillman, 43, thought he could get out in front of the economic wave, and find work in a bigger city like Duluth before more people got laid off and became his competition, but his “leap of faith” hasn’t fully worked out yet.

“The bad way to look at it is my wages have been cut to a third. The good thing is there’s always something you can take — it doesn’t matter what the pay of what the job is — there’s always some type of skill or knowledge that you can take to your next job,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’ve worked at Holiday as a sales associate or if I’ve been a calibration technician for a big pharmaceutical manufacturer, there’s still basic things you can take from one job to another.”

“This is an investment in me,” he said. “And an investment in me means I’ll be able to go out and help others like my children, and not have to work so hard and be able to spend more time with them.”

It took him about a month to find work but everything so far has been part-time with no benefits, “and that’s tough when you have a family.” He’s got two sons at home — one who is near college age — and a daughter working on her Master’s back East. He’s been an assistant cook for 525 children in the Northern Lights School District in Superior, Wisconsin and was a bell driver at Sheraton.

In the meantime, he’s taking classes at the college trying to “widen his base” so he’s not just in one field. He’s taking out loans for classes in electronics, shopping at second-hand stores, and living a frugal life that was his nature long before the economy went south.

“I was raised by my grandparents and the benefit of that was I basically was raised through the Depression also, so I’m not the type who has to have the brand name, as long as there’s food on the table, heat and a roof over my head, that’s fine with me.”

“Until things turn around to the positive, these are the things people are going to have to do.”

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