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Career Quick Look
Salary: $34,770* Education:
Years in Field: 1 Computer Numeric Controls Machinist Certificate in progress
City/State: Houston, TX  

"I'm the only woman in the course but it hasn't been a problem." In fact, she says, their instructor told them at the beginning that women tend to pick up these machine skills "right off the bat," Traci says. "And I think it's true."

Starting Salary: An unskilled worker without experience will start around $8/hr. Within a year - "if you're in it and you learn" - a machinist can earn $35-40,000.

Top Salary: In two years a skilled computer numeric controls machinist will be earning $50,000 and up.

Getting Started: Traci says she'd spent enough time in low paying jobs to know that she wanted a change in her life. "I was doing fast food for a while," which she says was "the worst … when you come home upset every day." She spent two years working as an office manager in her father's company, but decided that "I really needed something I could grow more with. I had pretty much reached the top of where I could be there." On her mother's advice, she decided to check out some of the technical programs at North Harris College.

Education: Traci attended the University of North Texas for two years, taking general courses, but still wasn't sure what she wanted to do. She left school to start work for a couple of years, but was frustrated by the low wages and lack of growth opportunities. Her mother, who's a nursing instructor at North Harris, suggested Traci take a look at some of the programs. When she heard about the Machining Technology program - which required only six courses to learn a valuable skill - she signed up and started classes in January 2001.

Greatest Professional Achievement: "For me," Traci says, "it's just great to feel that I have something I can grow with. No matter where I go, I've learned a skill I can start working with right away."

Barriers: Traci hasn't encountered any barriers in her 8 months in the CNC program.
No matter what level she was working at, Dara tried to stay open to what she might learn - to ask questions, and demonstrate her interest in finding out more. "Take every experience as a learning opportunity," she advises. "Try to learn from other people, and use these lessons in your own career."

Working with Men: "I'm the only woman in the course," Traci says, "but it hasn't been a problem." In fact, she says, their instructor told them at the beginning that women tend to pick up these machine skills "right off the bat," Traci says. "And I think it's true."

She also says she's found the faculty at North Harris "very helpful," and approachable with any questions or concerns.

Advice for Women: "I think this course would be good for a lot of people," she says. "Especially for women who might be stuck in low-paying, or minimum wage type of jobs. It's a fairly short course and it's very worthwhile."

Her own experience taught her that everyday job satisfaction was important for Traci. "I like working with my hands," she says. "And it's really nice to be able to go into a so-called man's job and do it well."

Typical Workday/Environment: As a CNC machinist, Traci works on producing parts for a variety of applications - "for example, almost anything under the hood of your car has been made like this," she says. The precision of the CNC technology makes it possible to calculate within one ten-thousandth of an inch the measurements of a particular part. Her job involves taking exact measurement of various parts, placing them into machines and 'telling' each part - through the computer numeric controls - where it needs to go next.

Career Ladder: For Traci, one of the most appealing things about the CNC Machining Course was its relatively quick path to gaining skills and employment opportunities. In terms of skills and salary, for many people, "it's an automatic jump up."

Even with only the basic, early coursework under her belt, Traci says she had little difficulty starting her hands-on work in the co-op position with HMP. "It's really easy to pick up, once you've got that," she says. An unskilled worker without experience will start around $8 an hour, but once in the field for a year or so, can be earning $35-40,000. And a good, skilled machinist can be earning $50,000 after two years in the field, which makes the two-semester program seem a very worthwhile investment.

Professional Associations: None.

Hobbies: When she's not at work or school, Traci likes to work on old cars, practices Tae Kwan Do, and collects vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Machinist based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition


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