Jacob Nohai sits in a machine all day long and moves dirt.
“Which is exactly what I want to do,” he says. “I love it.”
Nohai is a heavy equipment operator and works at a company that’s just invested in a sand and gravel yard; he’s in a field that he suspects most young people probably don’t even know about.
“I think what a lot of people miss is that just because you’re not making hundreds of thousands of dollars doing a white-collar job doesn’t mean you can’t do the same doing a blue-collar job,” Nohai says. “There’s no modern-day blue-collar representation.”
“In my field, there’s a gap in young men and women going into the field just because it’s not a very well talked about job, it’s blue-collar, it’s not what mainstream focuses on,” Nohai says. Kids will see plenty of ads and even television programs about doctors and lawyers, but nothing like what he does. But for Nohai, it was an obvious choice.
“I came out with a hard hat on, pretty much,” he says. Nohai’s father built the house they live in and owns his own home-inspection business, so Nohai pretty much grew up on a construction site. The heavy equipment outside used to move materials were like giant toys, and now he gets to work on and operate one for a living. From his experience, the opportunity is there.
Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo
In 2017, Nohai attended SUNY College of Technology at Alfred State in upstate New York and applied for a scholarship that judged applicants based on work ethic.
Former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe started his foundation to address America’s aversion to skilled labor, and the foundation has since given away over $5 million in scholarships. With over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the United States, while tens of millions of trade jobs sit empty, there seems to be an obvious gap.
“Pop culture has glorified the ‘corner office job’ while unintentionally belittling the jobs that helped build the corner office,” reads the foundation website. “As a result, our society has devalued any other path to success and happiness.”
In 2008, Rowe created the SWEAT Pledge (Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo), with 12 items all applicants must pledge to stick to. The ethos of it all appealed to Nohai, whose parents taught him these very lessons and instilled in him a professionalism that’s stuck.
It’s something they called self reputation, Nohai says, and it meant showing up on time, being professional, and holding yourself to a standard that’s “being the best that you can be, and being proud of the job you do.”
“You could be a simple broom sweeper, sweeping the shop all day—at least take pride in that; that’s how you rank up, get promotions. Show that self-interest and pride in becoming more at any particular job,” Nohai says. His parents held him to such expectations ever since he got his first job, and it’s served him well, so Nohai wants to encourage other young people to do the same, and to broaden what they think of as a good job.
“It’s a well-rounded field, I think a lot of people misconstrue it as not being the easiest of things because it is a dirty job, and not a lot of people take pride in being dirty,” Nohai says. He’s since graduated, done some traveling, and found a company that he thinks is a perfect fit.
The last item on the SWEAT pledge is: “I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.”
Tyler Thach immediately liked the SWEAT Pledge when he read it, and that last line in particular, because he felt it summed up his own approach.
“Yes, some individuals have the upper hand because of advancement from family or friends, but a strong-minded individual with less could turn their life around and end up doing better than the one with advancements. Life is made of choices from every individual that walks the earth,” Thach says.
Thach just graduated this summer from WSU Tech, where he studied aviation maintenance. He is about to get his airframe license, and will soon get his powerplant license as well. He’s had his career plan all scheduled out, working his way through school while taking care of his family, and timing his degrees and licenses so he can apply for the jobs that advance his career in the way he wants. Thach was paying for school out of pocket and decided to take his chances and apply for the mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s Work Ethic scholarship—he decided to forego spring break and spent the week crafting his application instead, and was awarded $5,000 for his efforts.
“I wanted to get everything in line, to get everything done in time with the program,” he says.
Thach says he’d considered studying business administration as well, but the path he chose instead would give him the opportunity to tackle interesting challenges in a literal hands-on manner. The aviation industry is big in Kansas, making up about a quarter of its economy.
“My family has been in aircraft; my dad and my grandma and grandpa all did avionics,” Thach says. He knew there were opportunities in the field, but wanted to do something a little different than they did. “I was interested to get my hands on the aircraft and actually build the new aspects of the aircraft.”
It’s a fast-paced field, Thach says, and he enjoys the challenge.
“I love to challenge myself even when I’m uncomfortable with a new task; I always push myself to do it and never live with the regret of not taking the risk,” he says. “I will always strive to do my best in life and stay dedicated to the lifestyle I want for myself and my family.”