Turning on a light bulb is such a simple task that many people don’t appreciate the work it takes to power those tiny filaments. Jacob Haefs, a third-year apprentice pipefitter and welder contracted through MidAmerican Energy, not only appreciates it, but he helps do the work.
As a pipefitter, he ensures the plant’s pipes carrying various materials are fitted together properly for maximum efficiency and safety.
Working in the trades is a family affair for Haefs. His uncle and grandfather were tradesmen.
"They’ve been really successful,” he said. “That’s a reason why I decided to do it.”
A desk job has never been appealing to Haefs, who served with the Army in the Afghanistan war from 2010 to 2011 before working in the pipefitting business.
“I’ve never wanted to sit in an office,” he said. “I like working with my hands and I like the feeling of being tired after a long day’s work. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something.”
Haefs, 23, enlisted while attending North High School and was deployed at 19, soon after graduating in 2010.
“I knew I wanted to serve and I knew the Afghanistan war was winding down and if I waited I wouldn’t have a chance to serve,” he said.
Balancing careers in military and pipefitting isn’t a problem for Haefs, who is active in the National Guard.
“MidAmerican is really lenient about giving me time to do my military career,” he said. “They’ve been really great.”
After his tour of duty, he began the process of becoming a pipefitter. He started working as a pre-apprentice to show that he had a true interest in the job.
“They want you to show initiative,” said Haefs. “It’s basically like a probationary period.”
From there, he took math tests and other specific tests related to the field at Western Iowa Tech Community College to demonstrate that he had the knowledge to succeed in the trade.
After passing all the tests, he began interviewing and was contracted to start a five-year apprenticeship program at MidAmerican.
At the end of his apprenticeship, he will have an associate’s degree in general studies from Des Moines Area Community College thanks to a new program through the plumbers union.
“The local union actually started a new program when I started three years ago where you get credits while doing your apprenticeship so you have that as a backup when you’re done,” explained Haefs.
When he started the program, the learning curve was steep, but Haefs said that didn’t discourage him from wanting to continue to learn the trade.
“It was really fast-paced and I had to soak up everything as fast as I could, otherwise it was going to pass me by,” he said.
Although he has kept up with the tasks of the job, every day there is a new challenge, said Haefs, which allows him to keep growing and improving.
“There’s always something new to learn,” he said. “People make mistakes, but you can only get better.”
For those graduating from high school and aren’t sure of the next step, Haefs recommends taking a look at the trades.
“For younger guys looking to learn the trades and work with their hands, union is the way to go,” he said.
Moving around from pipefitting to plumbing and commercial refrigeration someday is an option, but Haefs believes he has found his niche in pipefitting.
“I think I like this big powerhouse pipefitting best,” said Haefs, who hopes to someday open his own pipefitting business.
As with any job, there are a few negatives about working at a power plant, however.
“Coming to work and being covered in fly ash (residue from the burning coal) by 7:05 in the morning right after you get here isn’t so fun,” he said.
But Haefs said the bond with his co-workers makes up for any of the downsides.
“My favorite thing about the trade is the camaraderie,” said Haefs. “It’s more like being with a family than coming to work.”