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Precision Machining is this Young Woman's Happy Place

Category: Smartforce By: Catherine Ross, Director of Education, Smartforce Development, AMT - The Association for Manufacturing Technology Nov 8, 2021


From a young age, Cassie Aschenbrenner knew she wanted to work in the manufacturing field. Her dad, a welder, was her role model. She liked mechanical things and working hands-on, but she wasn’t sure where to start.

During her senior year in high school in Reedsville, Wis., Cassie began a youth internship with a large manufacturer nearby, but found it was not a good fit for her. The company was immense and impersonal.

www.APPRENTICESHIP.gov is a federal website with portals for employers, educators, and career seekers. Users will find a variety of information, ranging from how to set up an apprentice program to finding one.

New Kid in the Shop
Fortunately, the work ethic inspired by her father kept Cassie in the manufacturing industry. After posting on Facebook that she was looking for a change in 2020, a friend who worked at JTD Enterprises in nearby Chilton encouraged her to apply. At her initial interview, she met with owner Julie Hoban.

“When Cassie asked me about our work environment I assured her that we are a small shop of respectful, skilled people. If she ever felt uncomfortable, she could come to me right away.”

Equally as important, JTD would support Cassie’s pursuit of a machinist apprenticeship at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis., something that was only a vague promise from her previous employer.

Liking her talent potential and willingness to learn, JTD hired Cassie as an apprentice and started her on a Swiss-style lathe. Such hands-on work gave Cassie real perspective when she entered the classroom.

“In the fall when technical school started, she came back after her first day and said that she was the smartest student in class,” Hoban says. “Most of the kids there hadn't been running machines. They came right out of school and didn’t know anything yet. She was already ahead of everyone on her first day.’”

At JTD Enterprises, Cassie works 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, with class on Fridays. The apprenticeship takes four years to complete, during which JTD Enterprises pays all her education costs and a competitive wage.

“While much of the country fixated on post-secondary academics, apprenticeships began a quiet resurgence as a mainstream and inclusive path to fulfilling careers with competitive wages. Developing professionals find all the must-haves in apprenticeship: paid work experience, classroom education, often resulting in college credit, and the accumulation of skills that are in hot demand.”

- Catherine Ross, Director of Education, AMT Smartforce Development

“She’s getting paid while she does the program, which is the best part about it,” Hoban says. “She’s 20 years old and will complete the program in four years, and she’ll be getting paid the whole way through. As she progresses in the program, her wage will increase.”

Working at JTD Enterprises is a refreshing change for Cassie. She likes that it’s a small, family-owned business that cares more than a big business. Plus, they provide guidance to enhance her learning.

“Everyone here will drop what they're doing to come help out a coworker,” Cassie says. “If I have a question, they'll answer it and explain it in depth enough for me to understand it. They’re all helpful.”

After more than a year at JTD, Cassie has machined parts for everything from steel bullets to aluminum pins for mattresses and pillows. She likes the fast-paced environment and plans to stick with machining for the foreseeable future.

“Machining is a good job for me because I cannot sit still. I have to be busy,” Cassie says. “If I have a long cycle time, I'm cleaning, sweeping, wiping the machine down, and checking parts over and over. The others sometimes ask me ‘Why are you cleaning? It's just going to get dirty again.’ But I tell them, ‘Not if I keep it clean.’”

Cassie encourages other young women to consider a career in manufacturing, “Don’t be afraid of trying the field. It is male dominated, but that doesn’t mean a female can’t do it. Just try what’s out there. I have a fun time doing it, and I think a lot of other people would too if they would give it a chance,” Cassie says.

About the Author

Catherine Ross is an advocate for career-tech education and the future of work. In her decade-plus in U.S. Manufacturing, she has directed quality accreditation programs, organized national STEM events and student competitions, and served as liaison and manager for federal workforce initiatives.

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