Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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September 22, 2013

Welder gets help through program; others might not

Inexpensive welding classes filling a special niche.

MONTEREY — After decades as a day laborer and a stint in an Arizona jail, Peter Helmschrott is grateful for one thing — a full-time job. But it took his last $200 to get there.

And the future of the program that helped him is in jeopardy.

Helmschrott, 36, moved back to Indiana this year after about three years trying to settle in to work in Louisiana. With little education — he dropped out of Howe Military School after ninth grade — Helmschrott started working part-time for Monterey hardware store owner Lawrence Loehmer.

“He said, ‘Man, it’s just hard to make any money at $10 an hour,’” Loehmer recalled. So Loehmer asked Helmschrott: “Did you do anything to improve what you bring to the table for somebody who’s hiring you?”

After conversations with Loehmer, Helmschrott decided to pursue training as a welder — a field he’d heard was ripe with job openings, even for people like him with barriers to employment.

He’d been arrested and sent to jail for three and a half years in Phoenix, Ariz., on a 2003 charge related to selling drugs. Since then, he’d had “doors ... just being slammed in my face left and right” when he sought work.

“I had that problem with drugs — I ended up homeless, went to prison, all that — now I’m trying to repair all my stuff, and I noticed that a lot of places were hiring guys like me for welding,” Helmschrott told the Pharos-Tribune. “It turns out that I’m good at it, and I really like it.”

Loehmer had been explaining to him the effects specialized training could have on his job prospects.

“He just did not realize that, if you do the same job, pretty soon it’s not worth what you’re making today because somebody else will come along,” said Loehmer. “You’ve got to keep advancing.”

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