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From Alaskan shipyards to China, Jonathan Daily, 35, has found life as a modern welder to be unpredictable.
The Spencerport native works as a maintenance technical specialist in theRochester Nutrition & Health division of DuPont. His specialty is welding.
He first got into welding in his teens when the skill was useful for things like fixing a bumper on a car.
“I was curious about it one day, so (my friend) put all the gear on me,” Daily says. “I had the hood on, I had the leathers (a protective welding jacket) on, the gloves, and I just kind of felt like ‘Wow, what is this?’ It felt like a kid putting on a bunch of fireman’s gear.”
After high school Daily worked at auto parts stores and took a year off to figure out his next step.
On a whim he accompanied a friend to Troy, Ohio, where he enrolled in the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology for nine months. There he learned every aspect of the trade, including four major welding processes: shielded metal arc, gas tungsten arc, tungsten inert gas and metallic inert gas.
“I just saw it as an opportunity; this could get me out of the potential rut that I might be headed for,” Daily says.
Once he received his welding certification, Daily headed to Ketchikan, Alaska, to work at Alaska Ship and Dry Dock Inc., a dry dock where ships received specialized repairs. On a crew of 100 seasoned welders from nearly every state, the 20-year-old got a real-life education.
“It was such an atmosphere of pride and ‘Anything can be done; no doubt about (it),’” Daily says. “If we had big ships and they needed new generators, you cut a 20-by-30-foot hole in the side of the ship and removed everything that was in the way. (We) just did whatever it took.”
He adds: “In trade school you learn how to do it right in front of you on the work bench. In the shipyard in Alaska it was: get uncomfortable, get used to being uncomfortable, and do it in all kinds of undesirable conditions for long hours.”
To master his craft, Daily followed welding opportunities across the country. He worked for a contractor at Proctor & Gamble Co.’s Pringles plant in Jackson, Tenn. The move forced Daily into new territory: welding stainless steel.
He succeeded there by gleaning everything he could from others—and demonstrating humility.
“There was probably 20 other seasoned guys on my crew, and I went up to every one of them individually and said, ‘Hey, this stainless steel is new to me,’” Daily says. “‘If you see me doing anything that I could do better, please let me know.’ So every guy on my crew showed me a trick or two, (and) I compiled all these tricks and I was nearly outperforming them.”
He added: “You’ve got to be ambitious and aggressive. Nobody is going to knock down your door with a golden ticket. I think every person in the world can learn something from any other person in the world. It may be learning what not to do, but you can learn something from interacting with them.”
He came back to Rochester in 2000. Though each point of his career was not fully conceived when he started out, he has always maintained the desire to educate himself by asking others for help.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my life, and if you can learn from a mistake, I guess it’s a lesson. So I have had a lot of lessons,” Daily says. “You’re just kind of heading in a general direction and bounce off the walls a little bit … as long as you’re heading that way.”
By 2006, Daily was working for Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S, which was acquired by DuPont International Biosciences in 2011. That year he was selected to travel to Wuxi, China, for the company’s quality control operations. He taught a group of employees the company’s new standards for food-grade welding.
“When I walked in, they kind of looked at me like ‘another Western guy that’s going to shake his finger at us,’ but when I got on the ground and started welding, I came up and had 20 of them around,” Daily says. “I was a celebrity because I think I was the first one that they ever saw actually get their hands on something. They couldn’t believe that I was telling them all the tricks and all the secrets (to welding).”
He has since shifted to less welding and more mechanical work such as rebuilding pumps, agitators and valves and troubleshooting equipment.
Daily finds that many answers in the world of building and welding materials can be found by acknowledging each object’s makeup.
“When something is broken, I like to see how it was built,” he says. “They’ll build things certain ways; they’re not going to put a threaded hole here and a notch there for no reason.”
After mastering welding, Daily is happy to help the next generation move forward in the industry.
“I love the welding, (but) it doesn’t break my heart to be doing less and less of it,” Daily says. “I feel like I’ve kind of mastered all the elements of it and it’s just kind of routine now. I get more pleasure and satisfaction from teaching others and getting them up to speed.”
Skilled welders are needed in this country, he says.
“There’s a lot more people retiring than there are getting into it,” Daily says. “You could argue that there’s a lot less jobs, but there’s still going to be jobs.”
He enjoys building guitars and teaching his 13-year-old daughter, Evelyn, how to construct things. They have started a brand called JEV—J for Jon and EV for Evelyn—for their handcrafted electric guitars, which they make for the likes of Mercedes Arn-Horn of the band Courage My Love, which was nominated for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Canadian Juno Awards.
“She definitely has my curiosity for how things work and how you can make them better,” Daily says of his daughter. “I just try to make her realize that anything is possible.”
The ability to solve problems in life is an important lesson he tries to instill in her.
“My mother calls her Jonny junior,” he says. “For Christmas I got her a welding helmet and a bunch of tools. I tell her, ‘My goal for you is I want you to be confident; I don’t want you to be nervous about this or that.’ I love that kid more than anything.”
To be self-reliant, Daily says, is a natural mode of living.
“I’ve just always had the mindset of doing things yourself,” he says. “I don’t call a plumber; I don’t call an electrician. My grandfather says if a man built it, I can fix it. If someone can do it, everybody can do it. We all have the same tools fundamentally.”
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