The road to the right career is not always a straight one.
Just ask Peter Heinen. As a student at Sheboygan Falls High School, he was interested in becoming an electrician after taking several courses from technology education teacher Ed Hughes. But when he graduated in 2011, he took a slight detour and became a motorcycle mechanic instead.
He completed an 18 month course at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida then returned to the Midwest and worked as a Harley Davidson technician in Mankato, Minnesota and West Bend. He enjoyed the work but there were some financial challenges. He had to finance his education himself and he had to purchase his own tools. After three years, he had spent $15,000 on the high end tools he needed for work.
“The investment that goes into it is a lot,” Heinen said, adding that because of Midwestern winters the work was not always available year-round.
He began to think about the career he had considered in high school and decided to try that instead. With the help of his former teacher, he got a job at Faith Technologies and is now going through a four-year apprenticeship program to become an electrician.
“I talked about it when I was in high school and I didn’t do it and I really wish I had done it,” Heinen said.
As an apprentice, he takes a week of classes every other month and works for the company the rest of the time. As long as he maintains a good grade point average, his tuition is reimbursed. He is also making a good salary that will increase when he completes his apprenticeship, passes his state test and becomes a journeyman electrician.
Heinen credits his high school experiences with Hughes as helping him identify other career paths besides going on to a four year college.
“It opened your mind to the fact that there are other things to do, mechanical things,” he said. “And it gave you a chance to find out that it’s something you’re good at.”
He encourages other high school students to follow his lead.
“I really think the tech ed program is important,” Heinen said. “I’m a firm believer that college is not for everyone.”