This is part of the Ready NWI and First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series will review the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
Dave Ryan is Executive Director at the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce in Hammond.
What was your first job?
I worked as a general laborer at the Newton County Stone Quarry in Kentland. My paycheck helped pay for my tuition at Indiana University in Bloomington. My family had three kids in college at the same time.
How much did you earn?
I made $1.75 an hour — pretty decent pay for the time. Overtime pay was time and a half. The summer was a busy time at the quarry, and we usually worked six days and 60 hours a week.
What type of work did you do?
A variety of tasks. I learned how to use a hammer and drive a 50-ton quarry truck. We also set up dynamite once a week for a “shot” that would lift thousands of tons of limestone into a big pile.
What were your co-workers like?
They were salt-of-the-earth guys who would do anything for you. I was there for the summer, but the quarry was their livelihood 12 months of the year. They worked extremely hard at physically demanding jobs to earn a paycheck. Yet many of them also had vegetable gardens and loved sharing their bounty with us at the end of the summer. They taught me to be humble and thankful for all that I have.
What did you not like about your job at the quarry?
The long hours were brutal that first summer. One of my first tasks was to paint a piece of equipment. After eight hours, I had not completed the task and thought I could return in the morning to finish the work. I had a date that evening. My boss made it clear to me that my workday was over when I finished the paint job. I called my date, Mary, to tell her I would be late. Everything worked out fine. We later married and will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary in September.
Did you ever get into trouble?
You might say that. I remember the day I was driving the dump truck and forgot to lower the bed after dumping a load of dirt. As I was driving away, the raised bed of the truck ripped up the utility lines providing electricity to the entire quarry. To this day, I can remember the shower of sparks flying all over the hood of the truck. Fortunately, I was not hurt, but my actions shut down the quarry for the rest of the day. I was told to take a few days off to let my boss cool off. So I spent this unscheduled “vacation” at the beach.
What did you learn from this episode?
Never take your work for granted, and concentrate on the task before you.
What did you learn from your four summers at the quarry?
It provided me an incentive to complete my degree work at IU; I did not want to work in a quarry to make a living.
What advice do you have for that young person about to begin their first job?
Be prepared for the unexpected. You may love the job, or you may not like it at all, but it will be a job and a great learning lesson for future jobs and career options.
What advice do you have for employers that hire youth?
Treat them with respect. Teach them the traits of the job. Understand that they will make mistakes but that they will learn from those mistakes.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.