Changing Workforce 636b11a425c2c

Introducing the 2022 Plant Services class of young professionals

Nov. 9, 2022
Sheila Kennedy says attracting young workers can be a challenge but those who find a career in industry tend to thrive and grow.

Machines make the world go ‘round but only when they are well designed and maintained. Attracting candidates to these roles can be a challenge but those who find a career in industry tend to thrive and grow. Nowhere was this more evident than at the 30th Annual Conference of the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP), where the enthusiasm and sense of purpose of the attendees, many with a lifetime of experience, was palpable.

We recently asked several industrial pros under age 30 where they are now, what enticed them to this vocation, and what they would like job seekers to know. Their responses are compelling.

Tanner Patrick, at 25, is an area maintenance manager at an Amazon Fulfillment Center. “I love a lot of things about my job, first and foremost being the culture—not only within my team but within the entire organization,” he says. “Rallying around and working together to accomplish the same goals, such as equipment uptime, improved safety, and high reliability, with a team of technicians who enjoy doing the same makes every day a fun and entertaining challenge.” 

With an industrial engineering background in school focusing on process improvements and operating in a production environment, the idea of equipment reliability and optimizing production through various maintenance practices really appealed to him. “The importance of maintenance best practices and a reliability-centered maintenance approach to sustained success in a manufacturing environment clicked for me. That was what led me down this path in my career,” observes Patrick.

Kelsey Hay, who turns 27 in November, is a reliability maintenance engineer at E. & J. Gallo Winery. A semester of college interning at a food manufacturing plant inspired her career path. “I worked with some wonderful people in the maintenance department who showed me the ropes and allowed me to work on the equipment myself,” she explains. “It was there that I got to experience what it was like being a mechanic, and where I found a passion for helping to make equipment more reliable and more easily maintainable for those that work on equipment on a daily basis.”

For those seeking career direction, especially while in school, she highly recommends doing an internship—preferably multiple, if possible—even if it pushes out your graduation date. “So many students worry about trying to finish school in four years, but internships are really where you’ll discover what you’re interested in, what you’re not interested in, as well as help you get a foot in the door with companies that could be your future employer,” she explains.

Nick Leineweber, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer at Novelis, an aluminum rolling and recycling company, credits his father for getting him into engineering. He grew up enjoying science and math and appreciates problem solving and working in a team environment. “It is really cool to identify an issue's root cause, design something from scratch, collaborate with others to have it built, and then see the final product that started as nothing more than a little thought,” he remarks.

One of the culture beliefs at Novelis is to “say anything” and while it can be intimidating at times, Leineweber recommends the practice to others. “There are some really intelligent people and people of all backgrounds, and you can't be reserved or scared to speak up. Always be eager to learn and to speak your mind, and never be afraid to challenge something—but always do it respectfully,” he suggests. 

At 27, Kyle Runyan is a mechanical reliability engineer for the Nonreactor Nuclear Facilities Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he is currently supporting the implementation and start-up of an asset management program. 

“My favorite aspect of the reliability and maintainability field is the concept of continuous improvement and predictive technologies,” says Runyan. “I enjoy the challenge of investigating the signs and warnings that equipment health can provide, analyzing the data to determine what issues are present, as well as how to fix and prevent those issues in the future.”

He had attended a study abroad program in Munich, Germany, that concentrated on reliability and lean manufacturing after his freshman year of college, while still trying to determine what path in engineering to pursue. “I found a passion and never looked back,” Runyan explains. He recommends finding someone who will not only act as a mentor but build a relationship and truly invest in you, help you find a path forward that suits you and your personal goals, and will help you along that path to achieving them.

Aaron Lord is a wind turbine technician at Vestas, a wind energy solution provider. Now 28, he has always been a hands-on person. “I like building and fixing things and taking stuff apart,” he explains. 

When he started college, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and his uncle who worked at a nuclear plant told him about a nuclear engineering program in Augusta. “I thought it would be cool to learn about how power is generated at a nuclear plant and get to work in the energy field,” says Lord.

Now in the wind industry, he has a more physically active role. “I get to climb towers and work more with my hands, which I like because it keeps me in shape,” he explains. He also gained much more experience in troubleshooting electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic components and systems. “I especially like that I can finish my day and see what I’ve accomplished and know that the turbines are going to continue to produce power.” 

Trey Twickler, 29, is a furnace engineer at Owens Corning. “I have always been fascinated with the idea of working in manufacturing. It offers many different types of challenges and the ability to always improve. I enjoy that each day is different with a new challenge to solve,” he notes.

Twickler earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering and MS in Reliability & Maintainability Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) (https://utk.edu), and also participated in an internship/co-op program through UTK’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC).

“I encourage students to take advantage of internship opportunities and get experience working in manufacturing,” he says. “I also believe it is very important to be attentive and learn the process, but equally important to learn how to communicate and work with different groups of people in the plant.”  

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author

Sheila Kennedy | CMRP

Sheila Kennedy, CMRP, is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at [email protected] or www.linkedin.com/in/kennedysheila.

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