|Years in Field:
in International Marketing; Journeyman's Card
and Ohio State Certificate in Tool Making
"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
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,"
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
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