Bringing the Economy Home

For One Laid-Off Construction Worker, School Was The Only Option

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Jesse Guyett, 32, works part time at Boise State Public Radio as an operator technician.

Jesse Guyett fits unwillingly into a crumby statistic.  He is one of about 20,000 Idahoans laid off from a construction job since the economy tanked after 2007.  Idaho Department of Labor data show about 45 percent of the state’s construction jobs have been cut since 2007.

Guyett is a journeyman electrician. He went to school for four years, then apprenticed for five to get that certification.  “I became a journeyman electrician in the fall of 2008 and in the spring of 2009, in March, I ended up getting laid off from my job,” Guyett says. He was making good money, about $16.75 an hour plus benefits.  “Unfortunately, we specialized in specialty homes, multimillion dollar homes,” Guyett says, “and those were the first to go when the economy tanked.”

Within a month of getting his pink slip, Guyett moved from Potlatch to Boise, enrolled at Boise State University and landed a job as a student employee at Boise State Public Radio.  “It wasn’t going to be a quick turnaround in a year and all would be hunky-dory,” Guyett says.  “So I needed to find something to do, to kill four or five years, or for as long as it took to recover.”

Now, 32 years old, married and parenting three step-children, Guyett is on the path to becoming an electrical engineer.  He works 30 hours a week for minimum wage, and takes about 12 credits a semester.  He’d like to end up as an engineer at a radio or television station, or running his own business as a master electrician.

Because of family commitments, Guyett isn’t in a position to leave Idaho to look for different work opportunities.  And he’s never really been interested in working a desk job, he was drawn to working construction.  “I like building things. I like being out in the weather,” Guyett says.  “Even in the middle of winter it was a fun job to have. You’re not sitting at a desk. You’re active all day long. You can listen to music as loud as you want to.”

Still, Guyett often checks construction job listings to see what’s out there.  The housing market is making a turn toward recovery in Idaho, but Guyett says it’s still an employers market.  “They can find workers for dirt cheap.  I went for an interview and the gentlemen told me he’d only pay $11 an hour to do track homes all day.  And that’s just not what I got into it for.  I have certain values I’ve got to hold myself to,” says Guyett.

Guyett isn’t sure if he’s electrical engineering degree will pay off.  If nothing else, Guyett says it’s bought him some time until Idaho’s economy makes a full come-back.



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