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Old 01-19-2019, 06:24 PM   #1
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Question Advancing in the industrial field?

For some background, I took an electrical tech. course in high school for 3 years, doing half days of class. I have a "certificate" for this, but I don't think it means much at this point. After that I landed a job building and installing panels for an OEM. Not much troubleshooting involved, but I did get familiar with industrial prints/ladder logic, PLC installations, and motor control circuits. I did this for two years. I now work as an industrial electrician, learning under one of the senior guys at the plant.

My main questions here are:

-What are my chances of advancement (esp. in heavy industry) without any school or formal training?

-Will the hours I worked at the OEM, and my current job count towards any kind of test or certification? (I have searched the internet for this, but in the U.S. it varies greatly from state to state, and union vs. non-union. Any personal stories, especially from PA, would help a ton.)

-Is it viable to study independently (buy books, read articles), or is that a step in the wrong direction? i.e. book knowledge is worthless without actually having worked with the equipment.

Thanks for the help guys. Sorry if the questions are somewhat vague, haha.
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Old 01-19-2019, 07:20 PM   #2
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Depends on the company and your reputation. From what I have seen the sky's the limit even without formal training. I think that trend is going to continue with the projected increasing demand for the line of work you are in.
I would study on your own. Often companies that want formal training will pay for it for you. I wouldn't pay for any training, but I don't know your specific company or situation either. I would read through the old industrial threads on here, Mikeholt, engtips and electricalcontractor forum, there's a lot of information but start with reading the basic books that deal with your job. Make some binders or digital files and keep notes and running lists of questions on the different subjects. NOTES, take them, keep them organized and occasionally rewrite them when need be and I don't just mean notes from what you read, also what you see and hear on the job.
What advancement are you desiring?
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my opinion; The IBEW only does harm, It's actively exploiting and misleading young workers to pay for pensions that have been robbed by fat cats, with no care to their safety or well being.
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Old 01-19-2019, 07:42 PM   #3
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Welcome to Electrician Talk Bishop.
Thanks for taking the time to fill out your profile.
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Old 01-19-2019, 07:57 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Wiresmith View Post
What advancement are you desiring?

I don't exactly want to stay at my current job forever. I'd like to eventually get the kind of skill set that would make me a valuable service tech for an industrial contractor. I've also thought about maybe trying to work my way into a design position. Those are both VERY long term goals of course. I just don't want to stagnate I guess. I'm planning on 2-3 years at my current job. Is that enough or should I put in more time before moving on?
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Old 01-19-2019, 08:41 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Bishop17 View Post
I don't exactly want to stay at my current job forever. I'd like to eventually get the kind of skill set that would make me a valuable service tech for an industrial contractor. I've also thought about maybe trying to work my way into a design position. Those are both VERY long term goals of course. I just don't want to stagnate I guess. I'm planning on 2-3 years at my current job. Is that enough or should I put in more time before moving on?
There are a lot of possible different variables that I and probably you don't even know for me to answer that question well.
In General 2-3 could very well be long enough.
Exponentially more important than that to me is who you go to work for next, since you are looking that direction. I cannot emphasize this enough, it's night and day out there between companies and contractors, do as much research as you can now on any possible future employer so you have a better chance of finding a good one and less likely to have to go through some bad ones before you do. Ask everyone you can think of in the industry in the area you want to work in what they think of the different companies, what work they do, how well they do it and when things come up in conversations about them ask for details or ask more questions. Keep an eye out when you drive by factories, who does work where? Often you might know the reputation of a factory, if they're crap its more likely their contractors are and vice versa. When you see the workers, do they look and act professional?

Design, apply the above a little different. I would work more in the field before going there, not that you have to. But when your in the field, pay attention to the design firms on the drawings of what your working on. What firms are hacks and not, you will also deal with their people in the field, feel them out.
Take notes about all this to, since your planning on doing what Your doing

And if you're working with good people now and learning what might be useful in what you want to do, consider sticking around longer, you might not get as lucky next time. But that doesn't mean be afraid to leave when you feel it's right.
my opinion; The IBEW only does harm, It's actively exploiting and misleading young workers to pay for pensions that have been robbed by fat cats, with no care to their safety or well being.
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Old 01-20-2019, 12:51 AM   #6
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How's your CNC programming? I taught myself CNC and had a company try to recruit me repeatedly as a field service engineer. Gantry cutters is their big thing. If you're interested, shoot me a PM when you can and I will share what I know.
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Old 01-20-2019, 12:58 AM   #7
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I don't think you need to worry about the specialized skills for service technicians. Pretty much there is no school or anything like that. So there's no "entry" into the field. You just start doing it and they train you. Take for instance with my group...field service for a motor shop. To begin with, it surprises most people that there are really NO electricians in the motor shop itself. They're all mechanics and this is true of almost all motor shops. On the field service side we do pretty much the same thing that industrial electricians and mechanics do. We just might have access to and have gone to school to be trained on some of the higher priced tools like vibration analyzers for mechanical, and PdMA or Baker, or relay testers for electrical. And then there's the whole construction side of things which is almost a specialty of its own. If you go into generator technician work there you need to basically be a blend of a diesel mechanic and an industrial electrician/motor technician. I can go on but the fact is that no service company in their right mind should ever expect someone to start working there and know the job unless they came from a competitor's shop. There is always training involved.

As to whether industrial electricians, construction electricians, or service technicians are at the "top" or not, it's more of a matter of perspective. You are basically at the top of your game if you stay in any one of those for about 5 years as long as you are progressing (learning) over that time although you never stop learning. After 5 years or so you have to sort of move "horizontally" to keep going up. It is not unusual to see for instance industrial electricians eventually move into PLC programming and draw 6 digit salaries without working ridiculous amounts of overtime. Or to move into planner or foreman and eventually superintendent jobs making that kind of money.

Really at the end of the day the big difference between all the various service and maintenance jobs out there is lifestyle choices. For instance in my job I deal with different stuff in different sites every day as a field service technician for a motor shop. I might not see the same site again for at least 6 months or more. Close to half of my job is windshield time. I don't have a boss that breathes down my neck every day although I do have a dispatcher that watches the GPS tracking and bugs me if I'm 5 minutes late getting out the door in the morning. This is very different from industrial electrician where you work on the same stuff with the same people every day and your boss is right there all the time. You can keep your stuff organized somewhere other than on your truck, and you know immediately where to get parts at. You get very familiar with the equipment. This is different from a field service technician where if they need something else, it better be at Lowes, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, or something you can get at an electrical supply house. Or you have to make do with what you have on hand. And it's generally a very big deal for a service technician to come back to work on it again the next day. You still have to watch your mouth as with any job but it's not the end of the world if you say the wrong thing to someone unlike what happens if I do it with a customer. You can speak more freely especially if you're troubleshooting something. And you might still get overtime like it or not but generally speaking you will be sleeping in the same bed every night even when you work really long hours or the same job takes a few days to finish.

Going to trade school or through some kind of apprenticeship program helps a lot during the first year or two but if you go the school route instead of apprenticeship you don't earn any money while you're doing it.

Then we get to degrees and certifications. Most states expect a certain amount of time on the job and passing their particular test, and pay money to get a contractor license. There are junior licenses for HVAC, cable TV, etc. Often the electrical license is split. For instance in my state (NC) we have a residential restricted license, a sort of intermediate grade license, and an unlimited license. Other than paying a little more and passing a different test, the big difference between them is the number of hours/years of service that you have to document. This system is similar in every state. Then there are the various certifications and degrees. There are college or tech school degrees that come in either the 2 or 4 year flavor. Those are useful when you have less than 3-5 years of experience. After that it doesn't really say much about you. There are various certifications you can get like level 1/2/3/4 vibration analyst, thermography analyst, ASE diesel mechanic (for generators), NETA testing technician level 1/2/3/4, and all kinds of private certifications. For instance I'm a certified startup technician for Schneider VFD's which means that if I fill out the paperwork with Schneider I can extend the customer's warranty. I've also got a certificate as a PdMA (specialized motor tester) technician. These look good sometimes to a customer but for a job application all they do is prove you've been to a training class with most of them. There are a few (vibration analyst level 3 or 4, NETA technician level 4) that are a little harder to get so they provide a little more value to the customer. But some are also a joke. For instance any company can self-certify that their technicians are NETA Level 1 certified. And level 1 vibration analyst quite literally means you know how to put a magnetic probe onto something and press the buttons on the box to collect data.

And there's the higher end of the business too. I have friends who went back to school and became engineers. And I went to school to become an engineer and now I work more as a technician. It's a two-way street contrary to popular belief. And both can go into management.

Also there's that little "economy" thing. Forget job security. I've worked for the very first cast iron pipe plant in the United States. A plant with a pipe sitting on a stand out front that said 200 year anniversary on it. Other than being fired, that's some serious job security right? Nope...they closed the plant after 200+ years and laid everyone off permanently. Ain't no such thing as job security anywhere anymore. BUT I can also say with confidence that especially if you are willing to move, there is no such thing as a recession for those of us in the electrical business except for construction. Recessions don't exist. We can be fired, laid off, or whatever they want to call it, and if you don't have a job again within 4 weeks you're doing something wrong. I was once out of work for 6 weeks and it only happened because I listened to my wife's parents and wasted 2 or 4 weeks doing something stupid job-search wise. Once I just did what always worked I was right back to work within 2 weeks.

Part of the reason right now is that it's really, really hard to find good help. Millennials and the generation before them (the "me" generation) simply don't want to work at "labor" jobs or jobs where you get dirty, or are expected to be at work on time (to say nothing of staying late or coming in early or on a weekend), or at jobs that are mentally challenging, and then complain how bored they are. So automatically you are valuable just because of work ethic and being trainable even if you don't know everything you need to know. When I look at resumes that's all I'm looking for these days.
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Old 01-20-2019, 01:00 PM   #8
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I've been a comm'l/industrial electrician for nearly 30 years. I have very little formal education past high school.

The thing here is, how passionate are you about your trade? If you're into it, you won't need much formal education except if you're unfortunate enough to live in a state that requires a license. Then you'll have to move or serve an apprenticeship.

If you're in the trade because it's just a job that pays the bills, then I'd suggest at least some formal education.

In my experience, about 80% are in the latter category. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just a different way of thinking than the former.

If you're motivated and have a good work ethic and look around a bit, eventually you'll move up......and keep moving up.
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Old 01-26-2019, 10:29 PM   #9
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You'll advance as far as you want in industrial. The more you learn the more you earn.
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