Chances are, you love to create with your hands, and you don’t mind a little hard work.
If the above sentence doesn’t sound like you, then there is still a place for you in manufacturing… but, you’ll need a degree, or significant experience in management, programming, or accounting.
But, for the rest of us, maybe we couldn’t afford a college degree (or the thought of all those student loans pushed us a different way), starting in a manual labor job is a great starting path.
First off, Manufacturing… what is it?
Merriam-Webster defines it well as: “Something made from raw materials by hand or by machinery”.
Sounds simple enough, anybody could jump right in and start making things!
Not so fast. There are a few things you should know; I’ll give you some tips that I’ve learned in my experience. Starting from an entry level position, and promoted to a managers’ role within 3 years, ahead of employees who had been there for decades.
1. Understand what you’re signing up for
Companies that produce goods through skilled labor will hire promising prospects and “test them out”. If you’re not sold on enjoying the work the interviewer is pitching to you, then it’s best to politely turn down the position and not waste time for either of you.
Working in a metal shop, manufacturing complex brackets, frames, enclosures and whatever job comes through the door is complicated.
You’ll be working with mostly alpha type personalities under the same roof. Things get crazy when the volume of work increases, deadlines get tight, bosses push and you can’t be frozen by the fear of making a mistake.
2. The job you’re hired for might not be where you stay in the company
The job description that my interviewer pitched to me was “shipping and receiving”, but 3 months later I was sent to run a frame assembly department at an alternate location from the main company, where I rarely saw my bosses, and had zero supervision, all because I was “a quick learner, with good mechanical ability”.
Turns out that the “lower level” positions they hire for are to get your feet wet. Employers test you out to see what you’re capable of, and some managers will take notice if you have an aptitude to move to a higher position.
This leads me to another important tip.
3. Know what is expected of you before accepting more responsibility
One day you’ll be working at your manufacturing job, maybe as a press brake operator, then the boss will approach you.
He or she is going to ask if you would consider being supervisor of the bending department. But, don’t answer immediately! It may seem like a forced question, and that answering “no” would sign your pink slip and you’ll be fired by lunchtime. That’s almost never the case.
Consider the level of stress in your life currently, how the other operators respond to you and how you carry yourself. Are you the type of person who has authority or are you more of a goof? [I’m the goof]. This will certainly impact how effective you could be in a supervisory role.
Is the management team supportive to their supervisors, or are they pushy? Make sure you’re comfortable being pushed if they fall into that category.
Ultimately, you have to make a decision, like I did. I was not comfortable taking the first supervisory role, but I was leading a group of employees who noticed and respected my work ethic.
I struggled anyway, and eventually had to step out of the position in less than 8 months. [I turned down the potential for a great salary for someone with decades of experience]. Stress can be hard to handle, so know what you’re agreeing to.
4. Do you LOVE solving problems?
Most of the work we do on a daily basis in manufacturing falls into two categories:
- How can I make this product as quickly as possible, without sacrificing even a sliver of quality?
- What problems did we have the last time this product was being run?
Speed is a big concern for the boss in one of these shops. Due dates are creeping in, and they’ll want to invoice the customer as soon as possible (since most businesses are NET30 or NET60, they get paid within 30 or 60 days of product delivery).
Valuing speed does not give anyone the right to toss quality to the side though. It’s a fine line sometimes if personally we aren’t happy with a product, but it’s pushed through as “good enough”. Sometimes, we can’t be perfectionists, and it will drive us mad at times!
If you’re in a stable company, repeat work is almost guaranteed, so you’ll want to have good memory linked to pain. By pain, I mean the extra 4 hours we dump into making a product that did not seem complicated, until it was.
Jump in head first
When you’re not sure about the job but you enjoy a challenge, then maybe manufacturing would be a good stepping stone for you to try for a few years.
Taste, taste, taste until you find the thing you love doing.