By Steve Dallape
“I see myself as a guy that would always want to build something.”
“Some people should go to college, and some people are better off going the route that I did,” says VCHS alumnus Luke Tessman (Class of ‘16).
The route that Luke chose is the one that goes from the high school, across the parking lot to OKAW Area Vocational Center, into the skilled trades, and on to a rewarding career as a union pipefitter. It was easy and natural for him to get on that path from a young age. He relates that a lot of his family, particularly on his mother’s side, have been welders and worked in the boilermaker industry. Exposure to that type of work from as a young boy made a big impression on young Luke and he always knew that he wanted to work in construction in some capacity. “I’ve always done things with my hands,” he relates. “I see myself as a guy that would always want to build something.”
That desire to build led him to OKAW Area Vocational Center, where he studied Building Trades. His senior year, he found out that Mike Rowe, host of the popular television show Dirty Jobs, was sponsoring scholarships for students looking to get into the skilled trades. Luke applied, and was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Midwest Technical Institute in Springfield, IL, where he planned to study mathematics for construction. However, he was only a month into the 40-week program when he got a job offer from a construction company. He spent the next eight months working for that company, traveling to different job sites to do welding and pipefitting work.
Luke had been a member of Boilermakers Local 363 in Belleville since he started at OKAW, but he had begun to see the writing on the wall. Boilermakers work primarily in the power generating industry, specifically the coal-fired portion of that industry, and “Coal is out, that’s the new thing,” Luke explains.”The work for the boilermakers is dwindling, and the pipefitter locals are absorbing the boilermakers.” He had been going to Pipefitters Local 553 in Wood River every Saturday when he was not working, to try and establish himself as a pipefitter, and the time was right to make a switch.
Now a journeyman pipefitter, he admits that the compensation is “pretty darn good.” Overtime is plentiful, if you want it, and Luke can’t remember ever working only 40 hours in a week. It has allowed him to live the life he has always wanted, while doing the work he has always wanted to do. That life includes travel and hunting, and he recently returned from an eleven-day, self-guided hunting trip to northern Alaska, where he was able to take a caribou. “That’s what you go to work for, to enjoy things like that,” he enthuses.
Luke acknowledges that, if not for OKAW, he probably would not be where he is today. “It gets you ready for life,” he states. “There’s plenty of things for every kid to jump in and learn a little bit more.” He appreciates the skills and values that he obtained, studying Building Trades at OKAW. “It teaches you how the world works, because in Building Trades, somebody’s expecting you to do a good job, because it’s their house you are building.”
Although Luke is happily entrenched in his chosen profession, the one he has been working toward since childhood, he did at one time briefly consider becoming a teacher. “I feel like I still get to do the teaching part of it,” he says, pointing out that as a journeyman, he spends quite a bit of time teaching apprentices what they need to know to be successful. And, who knows? Maybe in his future retirement, he will return to OKAW as an instructor, to teach and inspire a new generation of tradespeople to live the life they want to live by doing the work they love to do.