"I want to get my hands dirty"

In this Big Picture Interview, Juan Chacon offers words of wisdom for fellow Gen Yers: Hands-on work is high-reward.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Juan Chacon, 21, is a mechatronics student at Moberly Area Community College (MACC) in Columbia, MO, and is on track to graduate with an associate’s of applied science degree in late 2018. After attending the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals’ 25th annual conference in Kansas City this fall, he spoke with Plant Services’ Christine LaFave Grace about what excites him about a career in the reliability field, the attitudes of young people today toward maintenance work, and advice he’d give young people questioning what career path they should pursue.

PS: Your coursework includes classes in topics such as industrial electricity, maintenance fundamentals, fluid handling, and control systems. What appealed to you about mechatronics as a field of study?

JC: In high school I took a lot of the career readiness courses, and I took a lot of the electronics/robotics classes because I felt like I recognized that something was going to happen in those fields; I felt that that might be something secure. It was also just something I wanted to get into.

(At MACC) we study robotics, electronics, fluid control; we study maintenance, drive systems, all of the stuff that’s needed in a factory setting. I really like it because it’s more of a hands-on degree. I tried doing the engineering thing, and I felt like I would be a better technician because I liked the hands-on more than the calculations.

PS: What are your career ambitions, both immediately after you graduate and farther down the line?

JC: I understand I’m a young person just entering the industry. I’d like to start out as just a maintenance technician. I want to go on rounds; I want to test machines; I want to put signals on them; I want to put ultrasound on them; I want to put everything on them – the vibration sensors, all of that. I want to get my hands dirty.

Beyond that, I think after a few years of that, I’d like to move up, hopefully. I’d like a safety position because I’ve taken my OSHA 10(-hour) course, and I plan on doing more safety because I understand the importance of safety and reliability put together. If the machines are running safely, your workers aren’t leaving; your stuff is not malfunctioning (as) often. I felt like that was a pretty natural segue for me, because I’ve been told that I am too much of the “dad” of the group; I care about everyone too much.

I’d like to do that for a few years and then maybe move to private consulting. I feel like that’s something I could really do well.

PS: There’s a complaint from some more-experienced managers that young people today aren’t interested in getting their hands dirty. What would you say to them?

JC: To the managers, I’d say: “Give me your address; I’ll send you my resume. I’m ready to go.”

But I agree completely about my peers. We were born when social media and online things were just booming, so we’re all under the notion that that’s the best way to do it – that’s the way to get things done: Just get really good at computing, and sit behind a computer and work at your desk. No one wants to do anything hands-on anymore.
Nobody wants to go out and fix the thing that they’re programming.

PS: What was different for you? Were you a kid who was always tinkering with things, taking them apart and reassembling them?

JC: Oh, my gosh, there are so many taken-apart cars and put-back-together-with-different-parts cars in my house; it’s crazy. I have those little electric cars that I took apart and put, like, after-market monster wheels on them. My room was always a mess.

PS: What would you say to students a few years younger than you contemplating their career options?

JC: I would say if you’re unsure of what you want to do, if you want to give something fun a try that’s pretty rewarding because you’ll see something that’s going to break or something that has broken, and you’ll be like, “I know exactly what to do for this,” and you’ll have the instant gratification of everything working again or getting that to work again, and you like getting instant gratification or any gratification in general, this might be something you’re interested in.

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