Young workers: Patience is key to success
By: Jacob Howland
December 18, 2018

This Story is by Jacob Howland, Laser Operator, Helgesen Industries.
Gaining and growing a career in the equipment manufacturing industry is hard work. But if you’re able to overcome early challenges and be persistent in working on your craft, then it can also be very rewarding.
I know because for over six years that’s what I’ve done. I’ve learned through experience what to do and what not to do. I would’ve loved having someone share with me some of the tips I’ve learned when I started out. That’s why I want to share a few piece of advices for the next generation to succeed.
As a Laser Operator for Helgesen Industries in Hartford, Wisconsin, I work in a part of the manufacturing industry that uses a process involving computers to control machine totals. This is called “Computer Numerical Control” or CNC machining. In my job, CNC lasers cut parts out of plates of steel ranging from what you could consider scrap, to six feet by 12 feet sheets.  We have a few different types made by different brands. And as of today, I’m the most trusted operator to set up, run, and troubleshoot all of them.

Jacob Howland

Just like a lot of workers in this industry I found out about it through a friend. I was 21 and had a job washing cars but wanted a more stable income and a career that I could grow into. I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than a trip in High School, I had never set foot in a production facility before. So I applied for assembly as a more entry-level position, but fortunately, my supervisor suggested hiring me as a laser operator, which I accepted.
I’d have to say the best part about my job is the job security. Metal fabrication is all over the place. There will always be a demand for welders, laser operators and brake operators. You get a few years of it under your belt and you can start living fairly comfortably.
When I first started, it was it was intimidating. It’s a lot to experience at first, being around all that machinery, welding, big parts being lifted everywhere, forklifts scurrying around, and the hot climate of the shop.
The first two weeks were tough, but I got the hang of it. We are a very dynamic facility and have a lot of different processes to follow for different jobs. There’s a lot of information being thrown at you in no time at all for someone that’s never worked in production before, or operated CNC machinery.
Now that I have a lot of experience though, here are some of my best tips to succeed. I believe these are tips that many different types of equipment manufacturing workers can use:

  • Write everything down: When learning a machine, job, or process, write everything down. Put everything your trainer’s saying in your own words and keep them handy. Don’t throw them away as soon as you don’t need them. You never know if you might spend some time away from the position and end up coming back once it’s not second nature anymore.
  • If you don’t know, ask someone: If you’re not completely sure of what you’re doing, stop and ask someone. It’s better to bring a mild, usually unproblematic inconvenience to somebody than to do the job wrong.
  • Be safe: Don’t let your ego take you to the hospital. The people at your job whose opinion matters the most will be watching how much you care about avoiding incidences.
  • Have patience. This applies to a broad spectrum of examples. Be patient with the extra time needed for a job to get done properly. Be patient with how long it may take to build a reputation and climb the latter.  Be patient with the time it takes to learn everything you need to know.  Patience is key to success.

For a lot of jobs you do in this business, if you end up trying something else down the line, your first job skill will always be there to fall back on. Equipment manufacturing roles are often trades that many companies offer on-the-job training for, and always like getting applications from already experienced workers.
So if you’re just starting out, remember: it may be tough at first but stick with it, stick to these rules, and you can overcome about any challenge.