Want to be an engineer?

There are many roads to success

Last updated on June 7th, 2022 at 12:27 am

Maybe you enroll in an engineering class in high school, if it’s available. Take out student loans to go to a four-year college with a good engineering school. Get an engineering internship. Graduate in four or five years. Get a job with one of the companies you interned with. Pay back your student loans.

Is that what you think your path will look like? Have you considered doing it a different way?

Companies today are eager to attract talent, from engineers to workers on the shop floor. While engineering internships and positions require some schooling or experience, most companies will hire high school students to work on the shop floor. It’s a win-win – you gain valuable production experience that can form the baseline of your engineering education (depending on the type of engineering you choose), and the company gains a dedicated worker who can move up the corporate ladder with additional training. Also, understanding how things are made from the production side may give you a leg up on your fellow engineering students at school.

“If I were interviewing engineers and had the choice of hiring someone with or without shop floor experience, I would jump at hiring the person with shop experience,” said Jim Zaiser, president and chief executive officer of Hydro-Thermal Corp. in Waukesha. “That hands-on shop floor experience tells me they have more than just a theoretical grasp of good design. They have valuable insight on how a piece moves through the manufacturing process, how design influences the ease and speed of manufacturing, decreases rework and waste, and much more.”

If you’re looking for a summer job during high school anyway, why not get one that will help propel your career forward? Plus, these jobs often pay higher than minimum wage and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door at a company.

“Weldall is committed to working with high school students as they transition into a career because we see the value in creating a pipeline for the future of our workforce,” said Alesia Butera, human resources manager for Weldall Manufacturing Inc. in Waukesha. “Once they graduate, we place them in apprenticeship programs and, from the shop floor, our employees have been promoted into careers within engineering, quality and management.”

After high school graduation, you have at least two choices:

Go on to a four-year school, using the knowledge you gained in high school to form the basis of your understanding of the engineering field and help you decide what type of engineering interests you;

Get an associate’s degree from your local technical college while continuing to work part-time.

The company you’re working for may be willing to pick up all or part of the tab for your associate’s degree and then, when you’re ready to go on to get your bachelor’s, may help pay for that as well. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement. It makes sense – they’re investing in training and upskilling their workforce. If you show yourself to be a valuable employee, a company may do what it can to help you develop yourself.

Luke started as a CNC machinist on the shop floor of Hydro-Thermal about three years ago. Because of that experience, he has since become one of the star employees in the company’s mechanical engineering department. Although Luke didn’t take advantage of Hydro-Thermal’s tuition reimbursement program, other engineers at the company have.

As an added bonus, working on the production floor of a local manufacturing company is a perfect way to see if the industry is right for you before spending any money on a college degree.

At the end of this magazine are profiles of manufacturing companies in the area that want to hire you. Give some of them a call – you might be glad you did!

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