Workforce WindsorEssex is excited to welcome you to our Promising Sectors blog series. This series features people who are working in the promising sectors in Windsor-Essex. The blog updates will give you an insider perspective on what working in the sectors look like, as local professionals share their career journey, their insight and advice.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Workforce WindsorEssex.

This blog update is brought to you by Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, a Senior Project Lead for Interactive Manufacturing Innovation Networks (iMin) and Field Service Advisor for Windsor Essex Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC). We cannot thank Jeanine enough for taking time out of her very busy schedule to share her experience.

Jeanine Lassaline-BerglundToday, many young people would say they will “never” work in a factory.  When faced with this question, I almost invariably inquire as to why?  I continue to be surprised by the answers I get and how out of touch most people, regardless of age, are with what manufacturing is today.  Although there are pockets of heavy industrial manufacturing still requiring a fair amount of intense manual labour, if we look beyond this, many of you would be surprised to know that manufacturing can be a skilled, technical, fast-paced and dynamic environment.  Being from Windsor, we almost always think industrial, dark and dank when we think of the sector, but there is such a broad range of environments included in the sector.  Food and Beverage, Pharma/Nutraceuticals, Biomass, Energy, Textiles, Aerospace, Defence and the list goes on and on.

Growing up in the Windsor-Essex region, it would seem a career in manufacturing is almost inevitable.  When I graduated high school, jobs at Ford, Chrysler and GM were plentiful, as well as in the supply chain.  Most folks in my age group could graduate high school and go right into a “factory job.”  I, on the other hand, thought I was going to explore the world and create other opportunities for myself elsewhere.  Little did I know what lay ahead.

At 18, I left the area to pursue a career in the Canadian Armed Forces… a very short lived career.  What I really wanted was to get away from the area and coming from humble means, I didn’t have the money to immediately pursue a post-secondary education.  In my mind, joining the armed forces would not only allow me to see the country, but maybe, just maybe, if I was smart enough, I would find a career.  What I found, was what I did not want to do with the rest of my life.  It did however teach me some very valuable life lessons, which I carry with me today; the lessons and importance of self-reliance, self-confidence and discipline.  After returning to the area, I got a job and saved enough money to enrol at the University of Windsor.  Working full time at a racquet club and singing at a bar, I put myself through two years of school and found myself questioning what opportunity would I have before me after graduation?  I felt I was expanding my mind and having a great time doing it, but after it was over, what was the likelihood of being able to support myself….at more than minimum wage?  Looking back now, I was still a little lost.

Weirdly, life was about to change dramatically.  At 24, I found myself pregnant and with no direction.  Now, having to think about my future and the responsibility of having a dependant, I needed to really do some soul searching and grow up and figure things out.   I have always been smart and blessed with a knack for learning quickly.  Growing up in our family, we were always exposed to hands-on activities.  We did our own home renovations, we painted and wallpapered, we tiled, we did landscaping, we re-shingled our home, we did minor plumbing and electrical work.  I was fortunate to have parents that believed in child labour as a means to keep us all out of trouble.  Many hands make for less work so to speak!  What I didn’t know was that these humble beginnings were really the first inkling for me, that I was not only smart, but really good with my hands.  It occurred to me that some of the happiest times and most gratifying times were in the face of accomplishing a task and having something tangible to show for it.

On a fluke, I had been introduced to a number of Mould, Tool & Die business owners through the racquet club I worked at.  In a discussion after hours one evening, I was encouraged to pursue a career in the sector.  It was the best advice I have ever gotten.

My oldest daughter was born on September 23rd and I started school the following week.  I worked during the day, did evening classes at St. Clair College and graduated as one of the first female skilled trades in the area.  At this point I could regale you with stories of adversity and humour.  Not only was there a lot to learn about the industry, there was a lot to learn about myself.  Additionally, I did not know at the time that this was a bit unconventional for a woman, nor did I care.  I was in pursuit of a way to financial security and a means to support my daughter.  What I found along the way was the path.

Those days seem long behind me now.  With a combination of hard work and opportunity, I have spent more than 25 years as a part of an interesting and continually growing sector.  I continued to pursue learning and education, and pushed myself to always meet challenges head on, which has led to a wonderful career, full of rich experiences.  I continued to pursue greater roles and challenges and worked my way to senior and executive level positions and today I not only own a business, I work with manufacturers across the province in a variety of settings.

I am often asked to give some insight and advice to others who consider pursuing a career in the sector.  The following are my thoughts and considerations.

  • Today’s job market is heavily dependent on marketable skills.  Pursuing education is a wonderful way to expand your mind, but find a way to develop skills while you are learning.  This makes you attractive to any employer.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions.  If you are considering a career in manufacturing, then go and learn from people who are there.  Don’t limit yourself to only getting one person’s opinion.  Get many opinions from multiple sectors and multiple levels of personnel inside those sectors.
  • Understand manufacturing is a business.  Just like all businesses, there are a combination of skills and expertise required to make it run at optimum success.  Finance, Human Resources, Sales & Marketing and IT to name a few, are all necessary to run a business.
  • Manufacturing is not limited to Mould, Tool & Die or heavy Fabrication.  There is a world of sophisticated manufacturing happening right outside your door.  Find out about growing sectors and promising careers using media, talking to professionals and getting information from organizations like Workforce WindsorEssex.
  • Commit to being a lifelong learner.  Even the most talented and knowledgeable professional never tires of learning something new, expanding their skills, or developing expertise and competence in a number of areas.
  • Look for opportunities to be in a work environment, whether through an industry partnership, a co-op program or an internship.  Sometimes you cannot get a feel just through studying – you have to experience it. It’s not only engineering that has the option to take advantage of industry relationships.
  • Find a mentor.  Find someone or multiple people that you can count on to give you real and relevant information about work in manufacturing. Talk with that mentor about career paths, required studies or other opportunities for learning and experiencing.
  • Realize that technical skills are not the only skills required to work in this sector.  Problem solving, critical thinking, communication techniques, working with people, conflict resolution and on and on, are also a requirement in any successful career.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of volunteer work and other experiences that may have transferable skills you can use as part of a career in the sector.

With the impact of technology, the outcomes of research and development and the changing face of an industrial environment, don’t overlook the fact that you can have a rewarding career full of gratifying experiences and financial security.

– Jeanine