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How to Succeed in a Manufacturing Career

Inside a factory, a young woman wearing protective eyewear and grey button up shirt operates a machine using a control panel.

It’s often viewed as a gritty, lackluster job, but a career in manufacturing is far from that. It’s a career that can be challenging and stimulating. It offers good pay and reliability and allows you to create products that impact the lives of millions of consumers. Companies are investing in more plants and laboratories each month, creating more jobs and opportunities in the process.

You might find yourself interested in the booming manufacturing job market — and if you are — we’ve got you covered. We spoke with Directors of Strategic Sales, Stanley Johnson and Bret Givens, who both have over 13 years of experience in the manufacturing space. They offered a few tips on how you can succeed in a manufacturing career, whether you’re considering a career change or are starting a new job.

Have an interest in technology

You don’t need to be a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) whiz, but you do need to appreciate and have a basic understanding of technology and computers. That’s because more and more manufacturing companies are using computers, robotics, and mobile technology in their processes.

“These technology demands can range from automated assembly lines that need computer savvy machine operators to more sophisticated pallet jacks and forklifts that are controlled remotely by the operator,” says Johnson.

If you’re seeking a position in maintenance or automation, you’ll likely be expected to know more. Be sure you have the proper education and qualifications for the job. Regardless of your position, you’ll be well served if you can use a computer, smartphone, or have some basic programming skills. They might come in handy on the job.

Learn the company’s challenges and be a problem solver

Manufacturing companies are always looking to optimize their operations, whether it’s in research and development, management, or on the production floor. You can be part of this by always thinking critically about little steps in the process that you can change or optimize to improve productivity. Having a curious mindset, desire to learn and an interest in what you’re doing are great ways to start.

“Having engaged employees is critical to the success of both the workers and the companies we support,” says Bret Givens. “Researching the company’s history, culture and challenges is a good way to engage with the company and understand if they are a good fit for your career.”

You can also learn the company’s overall manufacturing process. Some of the best ideas on improving operations can come from the workers who understand the processes and workflows. Don’t shy away from building relationships with other teams on the company to get a better idea of their duties.

Communicate little changes for improvement to your supervisor. They may in turn pitch the idea to their higher up and adopt the changes you suggest.

Work on your communication skills

Manufacturing companies tend to be large and have multiple moving parts both in the production line and management. With such a big entity, it’s important to be able to effectively communicate: your goals, your experiences or any changes that may impact your performance. In a big production line, managers may also expect you to be somewhat independent — a big part of that autonomy means being able to keep them informed. No matter the position or industry, effective communication is a simple skill that will take you very far in your career.

“Having the ability to effectively communicate, give and receive feedback and motivate others will lead to many great opportunities,” says Johnson

Being handy with tools

Depending on your specific job, being good with tools is another simple skill that can pay dividends. Familiarity with tools is also a transferable skill that can open doors later in your career.

“There are a lot of transferable skills in manufacturing that can help workers. You might not have the exact background the company is looking for, but maybe you used similar machinery or tools in a previous job or grew up using tools and know your way around a toolbox. Letting your recruiter or employer know you have those skills can really open their eyes to your ability to learn,” says Givens.

Many manufacturers use an array of tools somewhere on the production floor. Knowing how to use a drill press or being familiar with an angle grinder or band saw, for example, will prove to be useful in these instances.

If you’re a novice when it comes to tools, being willing to add new skills is another trait employers consider valuable.

“In manufacturing there are many tools to be familiar with and many companies willing to train coachable workers. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and advance your career,” says Johnson.

Being good with technology and hand tools is important, but even more valuable are people skills like being a good communicator, problem solver, and having the mindset to continually improve yourself and your work.

“I hear this time and time again in today’s marketplace. It’s not so much the skills that companies are looking for but the character of the worker. Employers can teach a person how to do a job, but they need somebody that’s going to come in with a smile, with enthusiasm and is willing to learn,” says Givens.

If you’re considering making the jump to a new position, explore the manufacturing and production jobs on our job board.