Step 1: Life Basics
Focus on excelling at the "life basics." All the skills in the world won't allow you to have a promising career if you aren't reliable and people find you difficult to work with. Develop habits now of showing up, being on time, staying "on task," being polite, showing a willingness to learn, and having a positive attitude. Regardless of the career path you choose, these good habits will serve you well.
Step 2: Hands-on Experience
Get hands-on experience with projects around home or work. Seize any opportunities you have with friends or family to get experience with mechanical or building projects. Even simple projects like changing the oil in the lawnmower, changing the car battery, building a birdhouse, or deer blind are good ways to learn some basic skills like using simple hand tools, reading a tape measure, etc. If you have a job, ask your boss to involve you with mechanical projects around work. Better yet, try to find a summer job or school-to-work opportunity at a machining or fabrication shop so they can immerse you in manufacturing and work with others who have already chosen careers in these fields. Working with hands-on projects also gives you the chance to experience pride in building or fixing something. That sense of accomplishment is a key reason so many people find significant gratification in careers in welding and machining. A student who knows their way around a workshop or has some basic handyman skills have a leg up on students who have never used a tape measure or spun a wrench. Most career opportunities in advanced manufacturing require people to have good manual dexterity. Being good with your hands and enjoying that type of work are essential traits if you consider this career path.
Step 3: The Basics Matter
Pay attention in school—the basics matter. Plain and straightforward careers in advanced manufacturing rely heavily on math and reading skills. Daily, most jobs in advanced manufacturing require individuals to perform basic math calculations quickly. Just as frequently, they use some geometry skills to determine layouts and complete similar portions of their job. While a machinist may never need to apply calculus, using basic math, geometry, and some algebra is essential. Having a solid ability to work with fractions and knowing how to calculate the sides of a right triangle or the circumference of a circle are examples of everyday skills for welders, machinists, and fabricators. Also, don't underestimate reading skills! Given the technical nature of advanced manufacturing, there is a lot of technical detail communicated on blueprints, equipment operating manuals, standard operating procedures, etc. Being able to read and absorb this information is vitally important quickly and accurately.
Step 4: Choose Electives
Choose your electives wisely. When you take different elective classes, choose those with a mechanical, technical, and math slant over other electives. Ideally (if you are in or will go into high school), your high school will offer welding and machining classes. These should be at the top of your elective choices. If your high school does not offer welding or machining classes, get in touch with CWIMA and let us know. We work with many high schools, and we may donate equipment or find other ways of providing better training opportunities for your school. Like nearly all facets of modern life, welding and machining heavily depend on computers. Most modern machining centers are CNC. Welders are computerized. Robotic welding relies heavily on skilled programmers with strong welding knowledge. Classes in geometry, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), computer programming, science, physics, and even wood shop are other examples of electives that help build the skills needed for your career.