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First jobs

By Times Staff
Published April 10, 2006

[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
Welder: Rhett Rasmussen, 21

[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Marketing direction: Jenny Weigle, 24
Customer service rep:
Darlene Caro, 22

Independent optometrist:
Heena Udhwani, 25

Software developer:
Kenny Tillman, 22

[Times photo: Brian Cassella]
Power plant engineer: Kent Youngblood, 24
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Supervisor of beer tasting: Dawn Piccininni, 24
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Physical therapist: Lindsay Largent, 29

One welds metal. Another lauds the virtues of beer. One writes software. Another examines eyes. From ages 21 to 29, eight young adults share their hopes and practical pet peeves of working in their first real full-time jobs out there in the Tampa Bay work force.

Meat cutter/cook: Michael Davis, 18

Davis works cutting meat. But don't call him a butcher. "Butcher" doesn't convey the skill a meat cutter brings to the job.

"It's tricky work," Davis said. "Certain cuts come out of larger pieces. You have to know how to seam out pieces to get the right cut. It's something of an art form."

Davis has worked at Rick's Custom Meats since its 2002 opening and works up to 45 hours a week at a job that pays $8.50 an hour. He works while attending Hillsborough Community College and hopes to eventually earn a degree in business management.

Davis got the job, his very first, because his family is close friends with the business' owners.

He hopes to one day merge his love of meat cutting with his degree, eventually opening his own meat business.

"I like what I do, I guess you could say," Davis said. "I like the people I work with every day. They make it fun. They make the day pass faster."

And it helps when you just plain love to cut meat. "If they'd let me, I'd stay here the rest of my life," Davis said.

- WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer

Welder: Rhett Rasmussen, 21

Rasmussen left Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in the fall with a master welder certificate and a list of 30 possible employers near his Pinellas County home.

After four months of fruitless searching, his bank account was nearly dry. Rasmussen passed a welding test at the last company on his list, Tampa Bay Shipbuilding & Repair Co. in Tampa. He was hired for the "Ranger" program, the bottom rung of the company ladder.

"All we did was haul stuff around, clean the yard, sweep the decks of the boats," Rasmussen said. Now, he's in a six-week welding class and struggling to make ends meet on $10.45 an hour.

He pays $350 a month to rent a house from his mother and $45 each week to fill his pickup truck with gas. When he finishes the class, Rasmussen will get a $2 hourly raise and be eligible for medical insurance and the 401(k) retirement plan.

He sees the shipyard a stepping stone to higher-paying work on an oil rig or as a self-employed welder.

"As long nothing eventful happens," he said, "I'm good."

- STEVE HUETTEL, Times staff writer

Marketing direction: Jenny Weigle, 24

Leaving the University of Florida with a public relations degree, Weigle assumed barraging employers with resumes would unearth a great job. She learned there was no substitute for word of mouth: Her father's cousin's husband tipped her off about possible work at Tampa law firm of Forizs & Dogali.

"Professors hype it up, say you'll get a job anywhere," said the Temple Terrace native. "What they don't teach you is how to deal with rejection."

Weigle started in a temporary job researching a class-action lawsuit the 17-lawyer firm filed against a health insurance company. Knowing little about law, she scoured Florida for potential clients.

"I had to play Erin Brockovich - but I didn't dress like her," she said.

When the job was due to expire, Weigle told managing partner Andy Dogali she'd do anything. "Please, I need some kind of income," she recalls saying. He made her the firm's first marketing director.

Neither she nor her friends are making "beaucoup bucks" as entry-level workers, she says. But she's paid fairly enough to afford an apartment on Tampa's exclusive Harbor Island, as long as she splits the rent with two UF pals.

- JAMES THORNER, Times staff writer

Customer service rep: Darlene Caro, 22

As a college student, Caro never thought about her own retirement. Now she helps others by providing telephone service to participants in retirement savings plans handled by money manager T. Rowe Price.

Initially, she just handled simple transactions, but after completing training and passing two securities exams, she specializes in enrollments and distributions. A fringe benefit: She has learned how to invest the 401(k) that came with her new job.

"It's almost like I have professional help from myself."

At T. Rowe Price's Tampa office, the laid-back atmosphere surprised her. "I always imagined that when I started work it would be in a very corporate environment, that everybody would wear suits and be very serious."

By choice, Caro works noon to 9 p.m., "perfect" for avoiding rush-hour traffic. On weekends she often visits her family in Hialeah.

Caro started at $30,000, but now makes about $35,000 plus benefits. She hopes to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program to get her MBA at the University of Tampa.

- HELEN HUNTLEY, Times staff writer

Independent optometrist: Heena Udhwani, 25

A native of India, Udhwani is from a family of self-employed businesspeople.

So the recently graduated optometrist is sure she'll someday own a private practice. For now, the North Tampa resident performs eye exams at Opti-Mart and Sam's Club.

Udhwani tried a salaried job but decided it was too fast-paced. "It felt like a factory," she said.

Now she gets paid per exam and has all the time she wants with patients. Udhwani said she's quickly gaining confidence wearing a white doctor's coat. "In the beginning, it was a little bit intimidating, because you're on your own and nobody is there to finalize your decision." Her greatest satisfaction comes when patients compliment her on an exam, even though some are wary of such a young-looking doctor.

"I was actually even thinking of wearing old glasses to look older," she said. Udhwani also hoped her four years in graduate school had given her a little more grounding in the business realities of optometry today.

- KRIS HUNDLEY, Times staff writer

Software developer: Kenny Tillman, 22

With college loans to pay and jobs scarce in the video game field, Tillman found a help wanted ad online and went for it - even though he wasn't exactly cut out for the position.

"I figured it might be something I would actually enjoy doing," said Tillman, who has worked for Document Advantage Corp. in Tampa for seven months.

Tillman works with software code, backs up data and even takes tech support calls for the company, which makes software to help businesses manage their records.

The company gave Tillman three months to learn the work. "I spent 65-70 hours a week doing that, trying to learn everything I could to be good enough for the job," he said.

Tillman was rewarded with a raise, to $36,000 a year, and praise from his boss, who calls him "a great team member."

A graduate of the Full Sail media school in Orlando, Tillman eventually may try the video game field, and perhaps even start a company.

- DAVE GUSSOW, Times staff writer

Power plant engineer: Kent Youngblood, 24

Youngblood's dad was a lineman and a line supervisor at Tampa Electric for 36 years. Youngblood, who graduated from the Citadel last year with a degree in electrical engineering, always knew he wanted to work there, too.

In November, Youngblood got hired as an associate engineer at the Tampa utility's Big Bend Power Station in southeastern Hillsborough County. He is responsible for overseeing a variety of plant motors.

After completing a college curriculum that was heavy in mathematics, Youngblood says he was surprised by how relatively little he uses math on the job.

"Here's it's more of everything else," he says. "You have to apply your mind to, not equations if a motor fails, but to figure out (why it failed). It could be many things."

One thing Youngblood misses on the job is getting his hands dirty. All repair work must be done by unionized employees who work at Big Bend.

"It's kind of hard to adjust to that," he says. "I'd like to do more with my hands."

- LOUIS HAU, Times staff writer

Supervisor of beer tasting: Dawn Piccininni, 24

Piccininni cajoles people to mix sips of beer with bites of grapes, olives and chocolate.

"They're surprised when they discover how well beer complements food," said the supervisor of the eight-member team that serves free samples at Busch Gardens' Masterbrewer Class.

Staged five times a day, the showcase of Anheuser-Busch's latest brews mimics an elegant wine tasting. It's geared to convince people that beer can be part of a meal, dessert or cocktail party (think suds in a champagne flute topped with a strawberry).

A 2005 University of South Florida graduate, Piccininni sees her job as getting a foot in the door at a major corporation by using skills she learned tending bar and working catered events part-time as a student.

She describes the pay as "a good start."

August Busch, retired chairman of the brewing giant, pops in unannounced weekly to inspect his pet project. But few patrons realize he's the guy whose portrait hangs over the clubby bar.

"He can be intimidating, but it's like, wow, this program I helped organize was his idea."

- MARK ALBRIGHT, Times staff writer

Physical therapist: Lindsay Largent, 29

If anyone personifies the notion that you have to give up something now to get something later, it's Largent.

She didn't come roaring out of college straight into a career. After earning a degree in biology at Kansas State University, she got married and moved several times with her husband, an urban planner.

She didn't decide to enter a physical therapy school until three years ago, at 26. "But it's a three-year school," she said, "and very expensive."

Largent graduated last year. Three internships later, she landed a job in January at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

She's about $100,000 in debt, mostly in student loans. And with starting salaries for physical therapists averaging about $50,000 a year, "It may take a while to pay off the loans," she said.

With help from Bayfront's mentorship program and the encouragement of her family and co-workers, the transition has been easy.

The challenge, she said, is learning to look for a patient's strengths and what they can do, "not what they can't do. And to find the best way to motivate them and help them become more independent.

"I'm really glad I waited, because this is what I love."

- TOM ZUCCO, Times staff writer

[Last modified April 10, 2006, 09:36:54]

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