Do you enjoy working with your hands? Following complex instructions? Do you think you could do repetitive work on a daily basis? Are you a natural leader who would enjoy a supervisory position? Once you have an idea what area of the automotive industry you want to pursue, the best way to learn more is to find someone who does the job and ask him or her questions about the work. Assembly plants are generally located in or near large cities, but if you live in a rural area you can still probably find someone with a similar job at a parts plant or other manufacturer. Even small towns generally have machine shops or other types of manufacturing plants that employ machinists, tool and die makers, inspectors, technicians, and other production workers. Local machine shops or factories are a good place to get experience, perhaps through a summer or after-school job to see if you enjoy working in a production environment. Many high schools have cooperative programs that employ students who want to gain work experience.
The term automotive industry worker covers the wide range of people who build the approximately 11 million cars and commercial vehicles produced in the United States each year. Automotive industry workers are employed in two types of plants: parts production plants and assembly plants. Similar jobs are also found with companies that manufacture farm and earth-moving equipment; their workers often belong to the same unions and undergo the same training. Major automobile manufacturers are generally organized so that automobiles are assembled at a few large plants that employ several thousand workers. Parts for the automobiles are made at smaller plants that may employ fewer than 100 workers. Some plants that produce parts are not owned by the automobile manufacturer but may be independent companies that specialize in making one important part. These independent manufacturers may supply parts to several different automobile makers.
Whether they work in a parts plant or an assembly plant, automotive workers are generally people who work with their hands, spend a lot of time standing, bending, lifting, and do a lot of repetitive work. They often work in noisy areas and are required to wear protective equipment throughout their workday, such as safety glasses, earplugs, gloves, and masks. Because automotive industry workers often work in large plants that operate 24 hours a day, they usually work in shifts. Shift assignments are generally made on the basis of seniority.
Precision metalworker is one of the more highly skilled positions found in automotive production plants. Precision metalworkers create the metal tools, dies, and special guiding and holding devices that produce automotive parts—thus, they are sometimes called tool and die makers. They must be familiar with the entire manufacturing process and have knowledge of mathematics, blueprint reading, and the properties of metals, such as hardness and heat tolerance. Precision metalworkers may perform all or some of the steps needed to make machining tools, including reading blueprints, planning the sequence of operations, marking the materials, and cutting and assembling the materials into a tool. Precision metalworkers often work in quieter parts of the production plants.
Precision machinists make the precision metal parts needed for automobiles using tools such as lathes, drill presses, and milling machines. In automotive production plants, their work is repetitive as they generally produce large quantities of one part. Machinists may spend their entire shift machining the part. Some machinists also read blueprints or written specifications (or view digital documents) for a part. They calculate where to cut into the metal, how fast to feed the metal into the machine, or how much of the metal to remove. Machinists select tools and materials needed for the job and mark the metal stock for the cuts to be made. Increasingly, the machine tools used to make automotive parts are computerized. Computer numerically controlled machining is widespread in many manufacturing processes today. Tool programmers write the computer programs that direct the machine's operations, and machinists monitor the computer-controlled process.
Maintenance workers is a general category that refers to a number of jobs. Maintenance workers may repair or make new parts for existing machines. They also may set up new machines. They may work with sales representatives from the company that sold the automobile manufacturer the piece of equipment. Maintenance workers are responsible for the upkeep of machines and should be able to perform all of the machine's operations.
Welders use equipment that joins metal parts by melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. There are different types of welds as well as equipment to make the welds. In manual welding, the work is controlled entirely by the welder. Other work is semi-automatic, in which machinery such as a wire feeder is used to help perform the weld. Much of the welding work in automotive plants is repetitive; in some of these cases, welding machine operators monitor machines as they perform the welding tasks. Because they work with fire, welders must wear safety gear, such as protective clothing, safety shoes, goggles, and hoods with protective lenses.
Inspectors check the manufacturing process at all stages to make sure products meet quality standards. Everything from raw materials to parts to the finished automobile is checked for dimensions, color, weight, texture, strength, and other physical characteristics, as well as proper operation. Inspectors identify and record any quality problems and may work with any of several departments to remedy the flaw. Jobs for inspectors are declining because inspection has become automated at many stages of production. Also, there is a move to have workers self-check their work on the production line.
Floor or line supervisors are responsible for a group of workers who produce one part or perform one step in a process. They may report to department heads or foremen who oversee several such departments. Many supervisors are production workers who have worked their way up the ranks; still others have a management background and, in many cases, a college degree in business or management.