Manufacturing Industry Helps Young Man Rise Above a Hard Life to Achieve a Skilled Trades Career
For Victor Driver Jr., working in manufacturing gave him the means and the drive to start a career in the electrical trades.
“Working in factories is not as hard as what a lot of people may describe,” said Driver. “You learn a lot of valuable life skills working. You have to get along with people. You have to learn how to use the jargon, know how to talk with people, train people and be trained. You need to be patient and be safe. You have to learn how to do these things to succeed in your job and your life.”
Growing up in a broken home in Milwaukee, Driver knows hard times. Before he was six, his mother got into drugs. Driver spent time on the streets. He saw and did things he is now ashamed of—yet he knew something better awaited him if he just had faith and persevered.
His break came when his father, a police officer, and uncle drove to Milwaukee to bring Driver to Dyersburg, TN, to live with his two sisters. “My father and my uncle, they've been a big influence on my life,” Driver said. “They're my role models.”
A high school athlete, Driver was poised to go to college and play football. But his mother died, his daughter was born — and his life changed again. At 18, he had to get a job in order to pay child support and vowed to make sure his daughter had a good life.
Driver worked in various restaurants until a temp agency placed him at Excel Polymers, a global rubber compounding facility in Dyersburg. After 10 months, he was hired full-time.
“I was very ambitious, trying to do my best job so people would notice me,” said Driver. “I made the safety team. I moved up from stacker to become a label printer. I learned several other jobs: central packaging, running the mixer, running the mill, compounding. On top of all that, I became a trainer.”
After eight years at Excel, Driver was laid off in 2010. He worked odd jobs until he landed a job at Wolverine Procurement in Dyersburg, which processes pigskin for leather products.
“Working in factories is not as hard as what a lot of people may describe. You learn a lot of valuable life skills. ”
Driver’s last manufacturing job was at Newbern, Tenn.-based Rough Country Suspension Systems, where he worked in such roles as shipping/receiving, machine operator, relief operator, press operator and packing.
“I tried to work smart and hard,” Driver said. “I put all the skills together that I’d learned at other factories and did my very best.”
While at Rough Country, Driver began to set his sights on a different career path —the electrical trades that his now-retired uncle worked in for many years. “I didn't know he was an electrician; I just knew he was always around the house fixing stuff,” he explained. “Our house burned a long time ago, and I remember he rewired everything. I found out he did the original wiring. It was just amazing to me.”
Driver’s uncle began teaching him about hot wires, conductors, insulators and safety. Then a friend told him about the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Ripley, TN, and its electrical program. For 18 months, Driver planned and saved money for the Industrial Electricity program at TCAT-Ripley.
“I knew I had to save up some money, so I could invest in myself,” said Driver. “Working in a factory allowed me to do that.”
In January 2017 he enrolled in the program at the age of 35. His instructor, Larry Autry, is another of Driver’s mentors. Autry provides online education from Tooling U-SME and hands-on experience in its lab.
Driver is exceeding his own expectations at TCAT; he was named by his fellow students as Electric Student of the Year and Outstanding Technical Student of the Year. “It's very inspiring; I want to keep going and see how far I can go,” he said. “I have a big thing about positivity. I want to be a good example to people and teach them how to deal with negative situations, or just show them good examples.”
In order to provide for his 17-year-old daughter, 11-year-old stepson and 7-year-old son, Driver works part-time at McDonald’s in maintenance while attending TCAT. This summer, he will earn his diploma and start a new career path as a journeyman electrician. His next goal is to continue his education and become a master electrician. Because of his background in manufacturing he is open minded to the possibility of working in the industry in the future.
“I like factories; I don't have a problem going back to it,” Driver said. “I learned a lot from those experiences that will help me succeed in my career.”