3 Tips to Advance Your Manufacturing Career Path

10/30/2019 | Tom Sprang

Stecker employee working at a CNC machine

If you’re reading this, then something about this article’s title grabbed you. You’re likely involved or greatly interested in a manufacturing career. You know today’s manufacturing facilities are safer, cleaner, and more worker-friendly than ever. And you definitely like that manufacturing pays better than many other jobs.

So, how can you advance your manufacturing career path? Here are three solid tips:

1) Think “Career” Not “Job

A great first step to elevating your manufacturing career is to rethink how you look at employment. A job gets you paid. A career gets you fulfilled.

From an advanced manufacturing apprenticeship all the way up to lead worker, an employee needs to be excited about learning new skills and competencies. Consider how you feel about the following:

  • In order to get better in your position, are you willing to take additional training?
  • Do you take initiative to solve problems?
  • Are you a good teammate (willing to help whenever needed)?
  • Do you have the ambition to someday be an engineer, supervisor, or quality technician?

Whatever their current position, career-focused people answer “yes” to these questions. Their positive energy is noticed by management, often giving them more opportunities.

2) Think “BIG

Not every manufacturer uses robotics or is on the cutting edge of technology, but many desire cutting-edge ideas to enhance operations or positively impact a manufacturer’s bottom line.

Study your company’s processes and systems; if there’s an opportunity to improve, share it with leadership. These big ideas could result in you working on new and exciting projects, which looks great to your employer.

Industrial manufacturing innovations are based on taking risks and adopting new ideas. If your big idea can transform a manufacturer’s slow process into fast and efficient business success, anyone will jump at the chance. And when your idea helps your manager or lead worker succeed, it’s a win for everyone — the company, your manager, and you.

3) Think “Smart

Manufacturing traditionally values people with interest, ambition, a knack for mechanics, and a desire to constantly improve. Many manufacturers offer entry-level opportunities to both degreed and non-degreed people, and the best ones have apprenticeship programs, for experienced and new employees. Apprenticeships usually include a combination of on-the-job training and classroom learning.

The key may be your willingness to constantly learn evolving technology. New techniques are continuously being created and implemented to improve operations. Keep up with industry changes, and you won’t be left behind.

Many manufacturers want employees to obtain certificates or degrees for specific positions. However, some entry-level jobs simply require on-the-job training. High school programs like youth apprenticeship help place entry workers and provide the tools and experience needed to succeed out of the gate. Typically, higher level positions require further education from certificates to 2-year and 4-year degrees.

Continuing education is the one way to advance, some manufacturers prefer to groom employees, encouraging advancement from one level to the next without requiring any degrees. For instance, a path may look like this: CNC Operator → CNC Technician/Setup → Leadman → Production Supervisor.

 First Level

 Second Level

 Third Level



 Production Supervisor

Manufacturing Inspector

 Automation Technician

 Mechanical Engineer

CNC Operator

CAD/CAM  Technician/Programmer

 Manufacturing Engineer

Plant PM Maintenance

Manufacturing Technician

 Supply Chain Management

Production Worker

Quality Technician

 Quality Engineer


Mechanical Designer

 Scheduler, Production Planner

Fill a Need and Advance Your Manufacturing Career Path

A recent survey was conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte found that 84% of executives agree that there’s a talent shortage in U.S. manufacturing.

A number that large indicates a real need for good people to fill manufacturing jobs. Not only that, but organizations are looking for people who think; people who express their opinions, bring process improvement recommendations, and have customers’ best interests in mind.

So, while you’re asking yourself, “What can this company do for my career?” you should also consider, “What can I do for this company?” Manufacturers today need skilled and smart people to make a difference. Now you have some tips to help you do that, advance your career, and feel good while doing it.



Tom Sprang

About the Author

Tom staffs and develops Stecker Machine's Production team (the shop's largest with over 150 people), including three shifts and two plants. He also leads the tool crib and scheduling as well as transitions new jobs to production by mapping work and identifying/mitigating risks. Tom became familiar with CNC machining at an apprenticeship and ended up working at a SMC competitor for 24 years. He's seen the shop floor, worked as a shift Supervisor, moved to Continuous Improvement, and became Production Manager. Today, Tom is also instrumental in bringing new work into the shop.