Why would one work in a blue-collar job during the summer when the goal is to end up doing nice and neat office work after graduation? Most of us, at least in mechanical engineering, begin our summer job/trainee careers on a production line or as an assistant mechanic or such instead of going straight for the designer or supervisor type of summer positions. Of course, there is the aspect of not being able to compete for such positions against people who have studied for 3 or 4 years already and have some work experience backing them up. However, a lot of us deliberately aim for production work.
The hands-on experience gives us valuable knowledge that we wouldn’t get if we jumped straight to an actual engineering job. Naturally, the experience is the most useful if you can continue your way up in the same company, but none of it goes to waste, even if the next summer job, thesis work or the first job after graduation is somewhere else.
I have identified three main reasons why we should all work in production in the beginning. First of all, it is arduous to work on a product you’re unfamiliar with, whether the work involves supervising production, developing it or designing the device itself. You will have to learn all about the product at some point, but it’s rather effortless in production. Especially in places like here at Metso, where we get to assemble the product from start to finish, meaning we get to know all the assembly phases and the specific differences of our various products. ST2.8, LT1213, ST4.8 and so on, were all the same blur before actually working with the machines. Well, to be honest, when I started I didn’t even know what a mobile screen was.
Secondly, manual work in production helps develop a so-called machine designer’s eye. If you know what it’s like to actually assemble what you design, you will most likely make better, more worker-friendly solutions. By this, I don’t mean that a person who doesn’t have the experience would intentionally make things difficult for assemblers, but they simply might not realize how difficult some solutions are to execute in practice. They don’t teach everything at school, so without the hands-on experience, one has to learn through trial and error. At least I personally prefer the first option.
My third and final point is quite an important one, in my opinion. A white-collar worker who is familiar with manual labor gets respect and approval. If you can handle your tools and know your way around the product, it is far more likely that people will have a positive attitude towards you. Being just book smart is simply not enough.
All in all, there are a lot of pros to starting from the basics and building your way up. Ideally, you would get to do all this in one company and in a way grow into your future job, but there is absolutely no harm in gaining experience from different places, doing different tasks. We should not look down on summer positions that involve manual labor, for all experience eventually pays off.
Summer Trainee, Manufacturing