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Career Quick Look
Salary: $34,770* Education:
Years in Field: 17 B.S. in International Marketing; Journeyman's Card and Ohio State Certificate in Tool Making
City/State: Adrian, MI  

"It's important for women to know about these technical and trade opportunities," says Patricia, who has spoken to junior high and vocational high school students to share her experience. "We're trying to get more kids involved."

Being able to isolate problems, step in and fix them on the spot is a great feeling, she says. "I love my job," Patricia says. "I really, really do."

Getting Started: When her first husband died in an auto accident twenty years ago, Patricia found herself the single mother of three small children, aged 1, 3 and 4 years. "I was going to school at the time," she says, "but after that I stayed home." When her husband's death benefits ran out, she knew she needed to find a career that would support her family. Her mother worked as an inspector for General Motors, and got her an application for work on the assembly line. Though she had studied marketing and office management, Patricia knew the salary and strong benefits GM offered to skilled line workers would be essential in sustaining the family.

Patricia was first employed on the assembly line, but soon she says "I got bored … a transmission goes by you every three seconds." She moved up to production work in what's known as 'the plant', and then ("because I was mechanically inclined," she says) Patricia applied to be an M.O.S. or Machine Operator Specialist, which would eventually give her the tool maker's skills.

Education: At the time Patricia applied, there was no set program to become a tool maker with GM. Instead, she had to pass an initial exam, known as the Tool Skills Trade Test. To prepare, she studied the book for the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Test (AFVAT), which contains sections on math, reading comprehension, spatial relations and logic.

Once she passed the exam, Patricia was placed on the waiting list for an apprenticeship in tool making - a four-year process which involved taking numerous classes while she completed the 7328 required hours on the job. "I'm not great in math but I can figure things out," she says. "Even so, it wasn't easy." With this combination of classes and on-site experience, Patricia earned her Journeyman's Card in tool making, along with a certificate in tool making from the State of Ohio.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Patricia's greatest achievement has been earning her Journeyman's card, seven years ago. "At that time I was a single mother. I had three children all in high school," she says. As part of the four-year apprenticeship she was forced to take classes she would never have chosen herself. "Math was hard," she says, "and physics was hard." With a lot of patience - and some help from her children, at times - Patricia soared through her class work. "To me that's a great accomplishment," she says. "I got As, and I busted my butt to get them. I was working overtime, and I was raising my children."

Barriers: Patricia says she's faced more than her share of obstacles as a female working in a male-dominated environment. "I've had men throw their tools and say 'What do you know? Who are you to tell me how to do my job?'" she says, "when all I did was offer a suggestion." While things can heated at times, she says most co-workers will see reason eventually. "I'm all they've got," she says, "so they have to learn to work with me."

Working with Men: : Of 5000 total employees at GM's Toledo, Ohio plant, Patricia is one of only 39 women - although she says the company recently hired more apprentices, of whom 12 will be women.

Working in the mostly male environment has required some adapting, Patricia admits. "Sometimes you have to diffuse things before they start," she says - and along these lines, she has learned to present questions and comments in a careful and non-threatening way. ("All I'm asking for is some of your input," she'll say.)

Advice for Women: "One of the things that I try to do is to keep an open mind and to always be ready to learn," Patricia says. Having confidence is also important. "You need to believe in yourself," she insists.

While there are inevitable frustrations in any workplace, Patricia says it's important to focus on what matters most. "You have to take a good, long view of things," she advises. "And you have to pick your battles." She points out that the cooperative nature of manufacturing and repair work makes getting along an essential. "There will come a time when the guys are going to need me," Patricia says.

Typical Workday/Environment: As a tool maker, Patricia and her team are in charge of maintaining the machines in the sprawling GM plant, which produces transmissions for high performance Corvettes, Safari cars and various trucks. "If we're not up and running, the rest of the plant isn't working," she says.

"We work on any equipment that touches the automotive part that GM is manufacturing. That's the tool maker's job," she explains. "We have a room where we sit and wait for jobs to come in, then we go out and make the repair. You have to go and troubleshoot the job and then make the adjustments."

Individual jobs can vary in size and complexity - from a minor adjustment with the Allen wrench, to working on a machine the size of a house. In addition to trouble-shooting sudden break-downs, she says, "we're in charge of preventive maintenance. That means weekly, monthly, and quarterly."

Career Ladder: The career path in automotive assembly or the tool-making field is largely up to the individual worker. "You put in for it," she says of the various levels of factory work. In her own case, this meant starting as an assembly line worker, then applying for a spot in production at the plant, eventually moving to Machine Operator Specialist as she worked her way up to a more skilled position.. These days there are more formal programs for training, and the test Patricia took to enter the tool-maker's apprenticeship is available for interested workers to take, as often as needed. "Anybody in the plant can take the test," she says.

Starting salaries in her field would be $18/hour, with steady increments as you gain hours and experience on the job, up to $26/hour. And, Patricia points out, there will be lots of opportunity in the years to come. "At the plant where I work," she says, "50% of my trade is ready to retire yesterday."

Professional Associations: Patricia is a member of the United Auto Workers (U.A.W.), the Coalition of Labor Union Women (C.L.U.W.), the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (L.C.L.A.A.), and of Hard Hatted Women. She is currently working to create an organization for tradeswomen within the U.A.W.

Hobbies: "I'm a computer freak," Patricia says. In addition to using and fixing computers in her spare time, she also enjoys rollerblading. "And I love to go dancing," she says.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Machinist based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition


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