Oct. 11, 2017 – Manufacturing AUTOMATION chats with Raeann Schmidt, machine operator at Ontario Drive & Gear, for her thoughts on co-op programs and on-the-job training.
MA: What is a typical day like for you?
RS: As a machine operator, a typical day varies for me, and it’s either between running parts or setting up and running parts. It also depends on whether the shift before me was running any parts or not.
At Ontario Drive & Gear, we usually run three different shifts. We design, build, test and assemble transmission and gear parts all in-house, and we’ve been really busy lately, so I actually just switched to the midnight shift.
MA: What is your favourite thing about working at Ontario Drive & Gear?
RS: I would have to say it’s the variety. I have the opportunity to move around from time to time. I do mainly work on the gear cutters but because we always have many new jobs coming through, I can do [different tasks].
MA: What drew you to a career in machining?
RS: I always knew I wanted to be in the trades, but I kind of picked machining on a whim, I won’t lie. I’ve always been a hands-on learner; I like [working with] my hands much more than sitting at a desk. My high school offered an introductory course to some trade technologies, and students were able to learn a bit about some industrial careers: auto shop, machine shop and computer technology.
I think that without that course, I wouldn’t have had much exposure to machining. I might have a clue about what [that career entails] but without the course, I probably wouldn’t have chosen machining for myself. My parents both held careers in the skilled trades — my dad works with electroplating and my mom used to make forks for forklifts — so I knew a bit about the trades [growing up].
MA: How did you get started at Ontario Drive & Gear?
RS: I was in the two-year Mechanical Technician – General Machinist co-op program at Conestoga College, and because my program had a co-op element, I had to work somewhere for a year. Ontario Drive & Gear came in and did a presentation to my class so I applied for a co-op placement with them and ended up getting hired. We all took a year off [our classes] to do our placement and when it was completed, we went back to school after. When my placement finished, I was hired to join the team! It was actually my three-year anniversary this September.
MA: What value did on-the-job training give you?
RS: Being an apprentice coop really helps with learning about the [job]. I was doing anything and everything. [As an apprentice co-op] I did millwork, tooling and manual work, like polishing on a manual machine.
I’ve actually gotten quite a bit of training during my time at Ontario Drive & Gear. They have a good relationship with the college and they believe in [constant] training. Along with their own in-house gear course, Ontario Drive & Gear offers a free CNC programming course for upgrading skills. It’s held in [one area of the plant] and a [Conestoga College] instructor comes into the facility. Last time it was offered at two different times of the year and employees just had to sign up to [attend].
This past May, I attended the Koepfer Gear School in Chicago. The machines I’ve been running and cutting gears on are Koepfer brand, and I had the opportunity to attend this three-day course. It was in-class training and then we went on [several] shop tours and got to see the machines in use. Three of us from Ontario Drive & Gear went down, and of the 30 students total, we were the only Canadian there. It was really neat.
I find [this kind of training] to be necessary with all the changing technology — it’s a must in the machining industry, really.
MA: What advice would you give to someone thinking of a career in manufacturing?
RS: Stick with it, you can’t be faint of heart. A lot of it depends on the actual shop itself. Ontario Drive & Gear is the first shop I’ve worked in during my three-year career, and some of my colleagues say that compared to others, our shop [offers] a very clean work [environment].
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This Q&A was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.