Eric Gowens

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Not everyone has the stick-to-it mentality needed for a job in the trades. Consider concrete work. You must enjoy the natural elements and be strong enough to hoist more than 100 pounds.

But Eric Gowens, a 19-year-old graduate of Shoreland Lutheran High School’s Skilled Trades Academy, has found a niche. He rattles off the challenges of a concrete laborer in construction. Then, he quickly follows with: “I think I do like it. It’s a difficult job, but it’s a hands-on job. And, time flies.”

“It’s definitely physical labor,” says Gowens, who added that it is labor that has survived the otherwise job-destructing effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Since June, he has been fully employed at Perma-Structo Inc. in Sturtevant in an apprenticeship pouring concrete foundations for new homes.

Gowen’s opportunity for a trades job emerged one day during his senior year at Shoreland. Gowens’ teacher, Scott Zondag, invited Perma-Structo to demonstrate to his students how to pour a concrete wall.

“I saw how interesting it was,” Gowens says. “Then, toward when we were going to graduate, the boss at Perma-Structo reached out to Mr. Zondag to say he would offer a few of us work in an internship in the summer. I started in June, and it was supposed to end in three months. But I stayed. I’m still here.”

He credits his fortunate circumstance – to be a 19-year-old high school graduate with a good-paying, full-time job – to Zondag and all of the other teachers who prepared him for the trades. “They taught me a lot of fundamentals,” he says, adding that among them is the ability for collaboration and teamwork.

Throughout the Skilled Trades Academy coursework at Shoreland, Gowens acquired an appreciation for his classmates. “Everyone had to work together,” he says, “There is a lot of challenge in the projects we did. We had electrical and plumbing work. It was hard, and you had to pay attention to what you were doing.” It helped to be among like-minded peers who all wanted to explore jobs in skilled trades. “My classmates were good motivators,” Gowens says.

One of Gowens’ instructors inspired him to be adventurous. Robert Musgrave, who has since retired, taught many of the trades courses. “He was always trying to guide me. And, he was a funny guy, too. He made learning fun.”

When Gowens had his doubts about pursuing a trade, Musgrave gave him a nudge, saying he should first try something, and if he didn’t like it, find something else.

Gowens is heeding the advice. Being a Perma-Structo employee has given Gowens the confidence he needed to enter the work force. Eventually, he may want to challenge himself to go back to school to be a heating and cooling technician. As he considers the future, Gowens says he thinks about what Musgrave counseled.

“Shoreland definitely taught me a lot,” says Gowens. “My experiences helped me to understand how it is out here. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and not as many people are willing to do this work. But I do like it.”