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Former Auto Worker Gauges Efficiency of American Homes

December 2, 2009 - 5:20pm

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Doing good deeds for others is what Pete Boogaart in Holland, Mich., is all about. Pete, who’s a married empty-nester with four kids, lost his job in January after keeping Americans safe and comfortable by testing car parts for the last 15 years. But through volunteering for a local action agency, he retooled his old skills and scored a new job as a weatherization inspector.

His experience using gauges and other testing equipment made him a shoo-in. When he was in the car industry, he used gauges to test everything, down to the latch that holds the center console closed.

“There are certain mandatory tests in weatherization that you have to do like checking for gas leaks and testing the water heater,” Pete says. “Is carbon monoxide drafting back into the room? We have gauges to determine if that’s happening.”

In 2008, as some American car manufacturers spun their wheels, many of the businesses that support them went into survival mode or went under. People like Pete felt the impact hit home.

The layoff gave Pete time for the volunteer work with community groups he’d always wanted to do, where he helped people save money while helping the environment. Yet, he spent more time doing work for free than he had hoped. He really loved volunteering so much of his time, he says, but his job-hunting efforts weren’t going so well – and, unfortunately, volunteering doesn’t pay the bills.

“I was on unemployment, and you post your resume and check the Web everywhere,” he says. “You talk to friends and network and try to let people know you’re out there. It doesn’t feel good, I can tell you that. It seems like a lot of doors aren’t open, and Michigan was losing jobs.”

“I don’t think there’s any question how assessing auto products and using environmental chambers in my old job couples well with a lot of home-assessment techniques,” Pete says. “That whole mental process to see how something is working or holding up coupled with the use of gauges – it’s a very similar skill set being applied in a different arena.”All that effort he put into the job search didn’t pay off at first, but the networking Pete did through his volunteer work eventually did. Luckily, he met a leader from Ottawa County Community Action Agency at a service event. There, Pete found out about a weatherization inspector job opening made possible by the Recovery Act, and he landed the job in June after about seven months of unemployment. The new job is a great fit for someone with his background, he says.

Pete says he’s very excited about the new ways he learns to make homes more energy efficient, from replacing faulty hardware to sealing up holes. And now he’s doing what he loves:  helping others and the environment, and supporting his family at the same time.

“I’m really enjoying the atmosphere here, and having a job where I can do what I was doing volunteering is great,” Pete says. “I know now what I’m getting up for in the morning, where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do.”

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