WorkFast Success Story

Sparks Fly for the Longrens!

Lofgrens Photo for M-Powered Program at HTC in MinnesotaMarried couples employed by the same company know all too well the double threat of a layoff. The reality hit hard for Chris and Cheryl Lofgren when they were laid off early last year from their jobs at Cummins Power Generation, a Fridley company that manufactures power generators. Both were let go as part of a larger workforce reduction because of a slump in product demand.

Both had worked at Cummins for two and a half years – Chris, now 27, as a forklift driver and line stocker, and Cheryl, now 26, on the assembly line. What was next for them? “I had no interest in going to school,” Cheryl said. But when representatives of a Minnesota displaced worker program talked with laid-off employees about educational opportunities, a welding course grabbed her attention. Chris was interested, too. They had taken a welding course in high school in St. Francis, Minn., where the two met in a gym class and became high school sweethearts.

They signed up at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park for a 22-credit occupational certificate program in metal inert gas welding, called MIG welding for short. The dislocated worker program paid for their tuition, books and welding supplies, gas mileage to and from classes and day care for their young daughter during class.

The class, part of the college’s WorkFast program leading to employment, was a fit for them both. Welding fed Cheryl’s artistic bent, and it’s not hard for her, she said. “It’s just being good at it that’s harder.” Her husband, Chris, grew up using an arc welder his dad bought when Chris was a kid. He took all the welding courses offered in high school and a machine shop class. “I just like building stuff,” he said.

Cheryl, the only woman to complete the class, said she had some good-natured teasing from her classmates. Instructor Chris Hensiak complimented her skills. “She was very good” and was first in class to complete the first of its three levels, he said. Her husband did well, too. While one final project was required, Chris Lofgren built four instead. Both were among top students in the class.

The couple’s shared welding skills spawned some playful banter between the two.

“We used to compete,” Cheryl said. “We still do. In the class, I’d say, ‘Look at this weld. Mine’s way better than yours.’ Or I’d finish something before him. Then he’d finish before me.”

Chris said he isn’t as competitive. As welders, they’re about the same and make a good team, he said. The class also studied blueprint and math for welding. “My wife helped with the math,” he said.

Cheryl had been laid off for six months and Chris for four when they completed the welding course in late June 2009. “We drove in our certificates (to the Cummins company) that day,” Cheryl said. “They told us to come back as welders.” On July 6, the couple went back to work.

Chris has worked exclusively as a welder since returning to Cummins and likes the independent nature of the work. “It’s just me and my welder,” he said, “I actually love it.”

Though welding is Cheryl’s primary job, she’s “a floater” who also works in assembly and the paint department when help is needed. She’ll proudly tell you that she’s only the third woman ever to work in the welding department at Cummins. She works days, and Chris works the overnight shift, which allows them evenings at home with their 5-year-old daughter. The couple lives in Isanti.

Doing work they like isn’t the only perk for Chris and Cheryl. Their jobs as welders pay them $2.30 an hour more than their previous jobs at the company. And in case of another layoff, workers in other departments who have more seniority can’t bump them from their welding jobs. “That’s because it’s a skilled job,” Cheryl said. “It’s definitely given us more security in having a job at Cummins.”