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This fall, I was fortunate enough to participate in an operations engineer co-op at PCC Structurals, Inc. Nearly every aircraft in the Western world—with few exceptions—contains parts we make. I take pride in the piece I contributed to that. From my experience, here are four tips for students going into future manufacturing roles.
1. Build strong relationships, especially with operators
Many strive to impress their bosses yet underestimate the power of winning over the operators on the plant floor. Take the time to listen to operators, earn their trust and show genuine care for them instead of just hitting efficiency targets or meeting a deadline. Operators know how to make the best improvements since they do the jobs daily, and getting their input will make projects much more successful rather than only looking at a project through an engineer’s lens. You may be pursuing a college degree, but they still know more than you here. Don’t forget that!
You are not at school anymore, so stop sitting behind a desk! That is not to say that desk work can’t be interesting, but don’t underestimate the opportunities present in a manufacturing environment. My experience at PCC was great because there are many fascinating operations used to cast aerospace parts. There are wax injection molders, 3D printers, foundry vacuum units, X-ray vaults and CNC (computer numerical control)/machining areas. Plunge into the opportunities at hand. Get some relevant projects in those areas and explore the manufacturing process.
3. Get your hands dirty
Don’t be afraid to do a dirty job. Sometimes you will be assigned a task that you don’t want to do. Do it anyway. Do it cheerfully. During my time with PCC, a pipe burst in the plant and the maintenance crew was looking for help. I was one of the few who volunteered. I looked quite out of place standing in a puddle of green water in my nice business attire, but I also gained the respect of many people that day.
We are called fightin’ Texas Aggies for a reason; get down and dirty to do the job right. Whoop!
4. Own your mistakes
Everyone fails, and you will too as a student employee. I miscalculated when preparing data for a weekly presentation that my supervisor presented to the plant’s management team. Since I was the only one who prepared the data, I could have let my error slide under the radar; however, I was transparent anyway. I felt really stupid, but my supervisor handled the situation well. This embarrassing situation became one of my most memorable lessons: your value as an employee is not measured only by your successes or failures.
My co-op experience has been valuable, and I have learned so much about being an engineer in practice. Despite temptations to fall into a monotonous rhythm at work, there is always something new to learn. Never stop learning. That is truly the greatest tip I can give.
Industrial Engineering, Class of 2023
If you found this blog post interesting, you may consider reading “The Co-op Connection: Landing the job” and “You Graduated Without a Job Offer.. Now What?.”