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December 4, 2020

11/9/2020 11:38:00 AM
La Fayette County Academy Tours J&R Underground

By Tom Martin, CESA #3
Students from the 'La Fayette County Construction Academy' went south this week to Blanchardville to learn more about the world of directional boring at J&R Underground. The students, from area high schools, are learning about the wide range of Construction Trade job opportunities during their weekly class meetings.
Students were welcomed by J&R Managers, Robin and Kaye Gilbertson. Robin was a farmer in the Barneveld area prior to founding J&R in 1999, with partner John Granberg. Kaye is a 34-year professional educator of the Pecatonica School District who also assumed J&R's billing responsibilities in those early years. Fast forward 21 years later and they now run a directional drilling business that has crews working throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
Before they continued with their welcome, Robin commended La Fayette County Dean of Students Duane Elfering for his amazing work leading the Construction Academy. "Duane is the best in the United States," Robin said proudly. "We welcome all of you young people here and thank Duane for making that happen, as well as his impact on youth for many years."
The Gilbertsons turned the evening over to Mike Byers and Ben Makos, J&R crewmates, to illustrate and give students opportunities to understand the basic operation and concept behind directional boring, as well as future job opportunities in the industry.
For the layperson, directional boring is how many utilities (natural gas, electricity, internet fiber, telephone, water) are being installed today. It allows for installation with less disruption to landscaping or hard surfaces, and less exposure of utilities to the elements. Experts like Ben and Mike work in teams of three or four to first bore the hole at an industry supported depth while extracting the natural elements and then filling the hole with a mud-like substance that allows the pipe(s) to slide easier from start to finish. They then attach to a conduit, that is pulled back through the hole, into which the utilities are eventually placed.
Later, students were invited to conduct simulated boring and backhoe operations. Several students identified their career pathway in heavy equipment, so these experiences were already the highlight of the class.
When Mike introduced himself (a 21 year veteran of the US Army) he thanked the Gilbertsons for their family atmosphere at J&R. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you're willing to work, they [Robin, Kaye and John] will treat you like their own family. You don't see that very often anymore."
Finally, Ben and Mike handed each High School student a sheet that, in this author's opinion, was the mission statement for JR, and would serve them well in ANY job in the future:
10 things that take NO TALENT but will earn you 100% RESPECT:
1) Being on time
2) Work ethic
4) Body Language
5) Energy
7) Passion
8) Being Coachable
9) Doing a little extra
10) Being Prepared

As I ventured to my next class, I couldn't help but reflect that this small Southwest Wisconsin company has what many young women and men are looking for, but just aren't aware of the opportunity. The Construction Academy students certainly are now aware that jobs like these exist in their communities, and want to thank Ben, Mike and the Gilbertsons for their hospitality, education and passion for what they're doing today.

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