If your goal is to begin your career in fluid power, I have some advice for you. First of all, I can tell you that you’re in luck. Not only are careers in the fluid power industry highly lucrative financially, but employers are also desperate to fill positions, creating a high demand for qualified professionals. The challenge in our industry is with filling vacant positions, and this is because manufacturing careers are no longer the top draw they were in the past, where one could spend thirty years with a respectable employer and retire with a healthy nest egg.
I can tell you North American manufacturing is stronger than your career counsellor thinks, and because none of your classmates or colleagues are entering the field, the vacuum pulling in qualified individuals is very strong. However, as strong as the vacuum is, fluid power systems are complex enough that employers can’t just hire any warm body off the street. You must still have some decent experience and knowledge of hydraulic and pneumatic applications if you want your resumé to catch the attention of recruiters. Please consider my top five tips in improving your fluid power resumé:
- Take night classes at a local trade college. Nearly every metropolitan county has at least one technical school offering night classes in various fields. You can brush up on your math, take hydraulic theory courses or get your hands dirty in fluid power labs. What courses you take will depend on what you want from your career, as a hydraulic engineer will require a different set of skills compared to an assembly technician. Aside from job-provided training, I took only night classes as part of my formal fluid power education; no fancy degree whatsoever.
- Start at the bottom and put in your time. You probably don’t want to hear this, but more than one successful individual got a chump job like sweeping floors before they climbed the ladder of success. If you can secure a position doing one of the less-skilled jobs at a big corporation like Eaton, Parker or Rexroth, for example, just being around their successful work culture will rub off on you. A shipper at these companies, for example, will have access to their training resources and technical staff, and it won’t go unnoticed when they see you reading their textbooks on your coffee break.
- Start your own fluid power blog. If you’re passionate about fluid power, and you have a knack for writing, why not start blogging about what you love? Not only does a body of written work look good on your resumé, but the creative process of writing is an excellent vehicle for self-improvement. You get a chance to practice your communication skills, and the challenge of writing about a technical subject often requires hours of research, further improving your knowledge of the industry.
- Teach others about fluid power. If you’re already well accomplished in the first three of these tips, then you’re likely primed enough to pass on your experience to others. You don’t have to be a seasoned hydraulic engineer to teach others about Pascal’s Law or differential cylinders; you just need a solid foundation with the basics, and a group of passionate students to teach it to. A half-day course with PowerPoint and technical hand-outs would go a long way if you offered it to a small manufacturing company looking to improve the resumé of their own millwrights, for example.
- Work on side jobs. If we assume you already have a decent enough resumé to design small hydraulic systems, but haven’t been able to land that engineering position you’ve had your eye on, try working as a part time consultant. By offering your services for design or troubleshooting, you can have the chance to work on projects that will not only build your resumé, but give you the real-world experience on the myriad machines that exist in our industry. Ensure you offer your services as a legitimate business entity, with consideration for risk management, accounting and taxes. It could be easy to get in over your head with some projects, so don’t be afraid to say no.
I can tell you that I have taken part in all five of these tips at some point in my career, and they definitely help. Most of my experience is from on-the-job designing, troubleshooting and repairing, but it was the multi-faceted approach to self-improvement that got me to where I am today. And I’m no more special than anyone reading this, I can guarantee that. I just have a passion, and I like to share that passion with others.