WOMEN IN POWER
Fluid power field offers diverse career opportunities
Jeannine Uehling (right)
There aren’t a lot of women who choose a career in the fluid power field. But for those who do, it provides opportunities in a variety of roles – from engineer to sales manager to technical writer to inspector – with job security and an income that provides independence. At Hennepin Technical College, women find that training in the fluid power program prepares them for successful careers whether they come to the college immediately after high school or as adults with years of job experience looking for a new direction.
Fluid power is one of the fastest growing technologies today. Graduates often find themselves with multiple job offers, and starting salaries are in the $35,000 to $50,000 range.
So just what is fluid power? As HTC instructor Jeannine Uehling explains, “It’s around us every day, from power brakes in vehicles to the hydraulics on the rides at amusement parks.” For Uehling, a career in fluid power didn’t come until she had owned a business, sold it, and then hired a career counselor to help her decide what path to take next. “I had always been mechanically inclined, but girls weren’t allowed to take shop classes in the small Minnesota town where I grew up and went to school,” says Uehling, who has taught at HTC since 2007. She graduated from the program in 1992, then gained experience working in the industry. Her former instructors encouraged her to try her hand at teaching.
ONE FIELD, MANY CHOICES
“It’s a very diversified field,” says Deb Mullen, a 1986 graduate of HTC’s fluid power program, who is a zone sales manager for Muncie Power Products, a company based in Indiana. Mullen’s territory includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan. After graduating from HTC, she built a career that has included work in research and development at Eaton Corporation, as well as technical writing, research documentation, and various sales positions at other companies.
During her years in the industry, Mullen notes she has seen many changes, including new technology within mobile hydraulics. Attitudes, she says, have changed immensely since she started her career. Today, she finds it’s a positive atmosphere. “It’s like a band of brothers who want you to succeed,” Mullen says of her current team. Of 17 other people in sales for Muncie Power, she’s the only woman.
WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED
According to HTC’s Uehling, to succeed in fluid power, it helps to be curious and want to know “How does it work? How can I make it work better?”
“You don’t have to be great at math. I wasn’t,” she emphasizes. “We teach all the math that students need to know, every step of the way. We want our graduates to be successful and get great jobs.”
That’s what Laurie Pepin found when she started at HTC. Employed in information technology at a Chanhassen company for 24 years, Pepin’s job was outsourced overseas. “This was a real turning point for me,” she says now.
“Going back to college in my forties wasn’t something I was crazy about, but I wanted to take control of a situation that was totally out of my control,” says Pepin. She started taking classes at HTC before she got laid off. She graduated in June 2011 with an A.A.S. in fluid power/manufacturing engineering and got a job at HydraForce in Lincolnshire, Ill., where she designs fixtures and circuits.
“HTC was absolutely fantastic in helping me get a job,” says Pepin, who explains that she was in the enviable position of choosing between two job offers. “I’d never been in that position before.” Now she’s working 12 to 14 hours a day, but she’s happy to be with a great group. She is the only female manufacturing engineer in the facility of this fast-growing company that’s expanding its business globally.
A GREAT CAREER
That kind of support was also important to Trish Roby, a 2006 graduate who was a single mother of two when she decided to leave her job in the computer field and prepare for a new career. She took her fluid power specialist certification and applied it as a design engineer with a local manufacturing company. It was her fluid power knowledge that let her design pressure piping and pressure vessels. This became a stepping stone to an inspector position with Damarc Quality Inspection Services based in Dresser, Wis., in which Roby travels through several states inspecting pressure vessels, such as nitrogen tanks outside hospitals. “When it comes to inspectors, they’re not used to having a woman,” says Roby. She believes that few women choose fluid power because it’s not suggested as a career for women. “You’ll get dirty,” she admits, “and that may be a deterrent.” After graduating from HTC, Roby continued her education by studying to become an ASME commissioned inspector, a rigorous program that culminates with an eight-hour test that only about 60 to 70 percent of people pass. She passed on her second attempt. With few qualified inspectors, Roby believes that her skills will lead to job security.
WHY SO FEW WOMEN?
“That’s a good question,” says Saundra Riha, who graduated in 2008 and works as a technician testing new products for Graco in Minneapolis. While there are quite a few women designers and engineers, Riha says she’s the only female technician in her group. “Maybe it seems too technical, maybe it’s the stereotypes,” she suggests. In her view, it’s a great career choice because there are always new products being invented and ways to make products better. For instance, she’s excited about the future of integrating electronics with fluid power.
Riha grew up around forestry equipment in her father’s business in Green Bay, Wis., so she was accustomed to being around heavy equipment. When she decided she didn’t like the calculus classes required for a major in mechanical engineering, one of her father’s salespeople who graduated from HTC recommended the college to her.
“The instructors are top notch and really answer your questions,” says Riha, who appreciated the flexibility in scheduling that made it possible for her to have a part-time job while she attended HTC. For women considering a career in fluid power, Riha offers a final word of advice and encouragement: “Don’t be intimidated by the guys.”
From sales manager to technician to inspector, HTC fluid power graduates have pursued a variety of opportunities in this growing field. One thing they have in common is the confidence to put their training to work. After all, they agree, fluid power touches everybody’s life every day.
Last updated by jhanson : 2015-02-21 14:46:40