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Divers Institute Attracts Layed Off Workers

Sam Eaton

As the nation’s economy continues to falter, those in the business of job retraining are busier than ever. Layed-off workers looking for career changes are dramatically boosting enrollment at technical colleges and vocational schools. This is especially apparent in Washington state, which now leads the nation in unemployment. KUOW’s Sam Eaton spent a day at the “Divers Institute of Technology” in Seattle, which has seen its enrollment double since April. And with offshore oil exploration booming, the school can’t graduate students fast enough to meet the demand for jobs.

(Clanking of equipment) EVERY MORNING AT EIGHT O’CLOCK STUDENTS FROM THE “DIVERS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY” FILE ONTO BARGES, CHECK THEIR GEAR AND SUIT UP FOR THE DAY’S FIRST DIVE. FORMER SAWMILL WORKER, TOM MAKI, CAN’T KEEP FROM SMILING UNDER HIS DRENCHED RAINCOAT. HE SAYS HE’LL TAKE THIS OVER PUNCHING THE TIME CLOCK ANY DAY. This is way more exciting than the mill, the mill was mundane and boring, the same routine day in day out, I mean with this you get job variety, I mean you can be offshore working out in the oil fields and you’ll be out on the beach. THESE STUDENTS HAVE ENROLLED IN A SEVEN-MONTH COMMERCIAL DIVING COURSE THAT TRAINS THEM TO WORK ON OFFSHORE OILRIGS AND SALVAGE CREWS. MOST, LIKE MAKI, ARE TRAINING FOR SECOND CAREERS. THEY’RE LAYED-OFF CARPENTERS, LANDSCAPERS, BOEING EMPLOYEES. COMMERCIAL DIVING JOBS GENERALLY PAY WELL. THAT PROSPECT AND A LOVE OF SWIMMING LURED TOM CARVER TO SIGN UP AFTER HE LOST HIS CONSTRUCTION JOB. Money, hell yeah, money. That basically it. There’s a guy here last week came in from a company, he had graduated about three months ago and he’s heavy into it already, he’s making some big money. THE CLASSES ARE SCATTERED OVER THE INSTITUTE’S NETWORK OF SHEDS AND BARGES ON AN IDUSTRIAL SECTION OF THE LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL. (Wilson yelling at students… nat sound of room) IN ONE CORNER, INSTRUCTOR WILLIE WILSON, A STOCKY, EX-NAVY DIVER, IS TEACHING A GROUP OF STUDENTS HOW TO USE UNDERWATER BLOWTORCHES. WILSON CAME OUT OF RETIREMENT TO HELP THE SCHOOL ACCOMODATE ITS SWELLING ENROLLMENT. RIGHT NOW, HE SAYS THE INSTITUTE CAN’T GRADUATE STUDENTS FAST ENOUGH TO MEET THE DEMAND FOR DIVERS. The oil industry right now, they got a lot more exploration going on, they’re doing a lot more pumping, and they need inspection work. It’s just one of them things, feast today famine tomorrow. DESPITE THE AVAILABILITY OF WORK, WILSON TRIES TO TEMPER HIS STUDENTS’ ASSUMPTIONS THAT DIVING WILL LEAD THEM TO QUICK RICHES. He’s not going out there and making 50-60 thousand dollars his first year. But they can make 35-40 thousand dollars a year which most of them never made in their life. THAT’S IF THEY’RE COMING FROM LOW-PAYING, BLUE-COLLAR JOBS. BUT THERE ARE THE OCCASIONAL EXCEPTIONS. Name’s Dave Russell, I’m 49 and I’ve been a physicist for about 20 years and a gap in funding occurred and rather than sitting around waiting for more money to come in I thought I’d take advantage of this gap and do something more or less outrageous. RUSSELL IS 20 YEARS OLDER THAN MOST OF HIS CLASSMATES. LIKE THEM HE ENJOYS THE IDEA THAT WORK CAN ALSO BE AN ADVENTURE. HIS CLASSMATE, RICK JOHNSON, SAYS THAT’S THE MAIN REASON HE ENROLLED. HE FELT HE WAS WASTING HIS LIFE WORKING AS A FILING CLERK FOR A MEDICAL CLAIMS OFFICE. I was at the peak of my career after ten years and I figured it’s time to move on. I couldn’t sit behind a desk the rest of my life. I started getting the itch to get back out and work, do more physical work, and this was it. AFTER HE GRADUATES JOHNSON PLANS ON HEADING DOWN TO THE GULF COAST TO AN OILRIG JOB. HE WANTS TO STAY WITH THAT CAREER LONG ENOUGH TO RETIRE AND ACHIEVE HIS ULTIMATE GOAL… OWNING A CABIN IN THE MOUNTAINS. SAM EATON, KUOW, 94.9 PUBLIC RADIO.