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The Job You Want

Industrial Machinery Mechanic

The Job You Want - Industrial Machinery Mechanic

12/2/22

Fifth of a skilled trades exploration series: industrial machinery mechanic.

America’s “Great Resignation,” in which millions of American workers have left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of finding something better, continued to accelerate almost 18 months after the pandemic began. More people quit their jobs in November 2021 than in any month in the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

This shift created worker shortages across many industries, perhaps none more notable than in the skilled trades. An analysis of job postings by the staffing firm PeopleReady found that openings in skilled trades increased 50% from before the pandemic to spring 2021.

What does it take to qualify for these plentiful careers in skilled trades? What is the work like and how much can you get paid? Our series, The Job You Want, helps answer these questions.

 

What does an industrial machinery mechanic do?

Industrial machinery mechanics, also sometimes called maintenance machinists or maintenance technicians, are responsible for repairing, maintaining and calibrating industrial machinery and equipment. These mechanics also install machinery and sometimes train system operators. They often work with others to conduct routine maintenance tasks for essential equipment in manufacturing facilities to prevent production downtime. They also work on scheduled maintenance rotations to check on systems such as automotive conveyors, packaging equipment, hydraulic lifts and other essential systems. Their primary concern is to ensure critical machinery is running as safely and efficiently as possible. They are also sometimes called upon to do unscheduled emergency maintenance checks.

Depending on the discipline, an Industrial machinery mechanic may need proficiency in specialized diagnostic tools and equipment to detect and correct operational problems. These technicians must also rely on their own analytical and observational skills to identify the source of mechanical problems so they can be quickly diagnosed and repaired.

What is the job outlook for industrial machinery mechanics?

According to the BLS, the job outlook in this field is expected to grow by about 14% between 2021 and 2031, a much greater rate than average. The demand for these skills continues to grow and the skills needed are also changing. As manufacturing companies continue to incorporate more automated systems to run equipment, the demand for workers with the skills to run this machinery also continues to grow. The BLS projects about 53,000 job openings for industrial machinery mechanics each year in the U.S. over the next decade. 

What kind of training will I need to become an industrial machinery mechanic?

Most industrial machinery mechanics can begin their career with a high school diploma. Once on the job, they may go through a training or apprenticeship period for the first year or so and then depending on the company or role, they may need further specialized training on specific operations and systems. Some companies offer classroom training and certification programs to augment any formal training obtained prior to getting hired.

How do I get into this field?

There’s no one predetermined career path to becoming an industrial machinery mechanic. Some people start out their careers planning to go one direction and later find themselves drawn to this field out of a desire for more hands-on work.


More in this series: Wind Turbine Tech | Machinist | Welder | Solar Installer | Broadcast Tech | Heavy Equipment Technician


Mike Dolph began his career serving in the Air Force as a helicopter mechanic. He reached the level of staff sergeant and at one point was supervising 8-10 airmen. It was during that time he realized he missed the mechanical work and began looking for something different. That’s when he reconnected with an Air Force acquaintance who was already working as a mechanic for ROQ International. ROQ produces automatic screen printing, digital printing and folding and packaging machines for the textile industry. In 2016, Mike formed his own subcontracting company and started as a contract technician for ROQ equipment in the United States. Since, ROQ International opened a U.S. subsidiary called ROQ.US and Mike joined the team full-time. He spends about half of his time teaching and training new mechanics.

Gerry Ibarra’s story isn’t that different from Mike’s. Gerry is an industrial machinery technician who works on ROQ machinery. Gerry specializes in a particular line of folding machines and his work changes weekly, depending on where the machines are located or where installations are planned. Some weeks he’ll be on the East Coast, other times he’ll be working closer to his home in Los Angeles. “I went to school, got my MBA, became a suit and I enjoyed it for a bit as a manager," he said. "I worked in sales and customer service, but I always had a passion for power tools, and I enjoyed taking machines apart and seeing how they work. I ended up making a transition over to this job when ROQ started hiring technicians.”

Do I need a certification or specialized degree?

There are certification programs, associate and technical degree programs available in this field but depending on the particular job or company, they aren’t always required. People interested in entering the field who want to pursue professional training first have a variety of options to choose from, and the time commitment is usually less than a 4-year degree. Many community colleges offer apprenticeship programs that can take about a year to complete. Certifications and some degree programs typically take about 9-12 months of full-time study to complete, while an associate degree will take two years.

What does it cost to become an industrial machinery mechanic?

Time commitment, curriculum and costs for training and certification can vary significantly based on a several factors. For example, tuition will depend on whether candidates are studying in- or out-of-state and can range from about $4,000 for a certification program to $11,000 or more for a two-year degree program. Many companies offer on-the-job training and classwork, so in many cases there are no upfront financial costs.

In Ibarra's case, the biggest investment was a minimal upfront time commitment. “The good thing about ROQ is they train you," he said. "They have an education center in Florida and it only takes two weeks for initial training to get started working on these machines. As you specialize in other equipment, they bring you back to the education center and train you more, so you get more certifications. We have folding lines and digital machines as well, and you can learn how to build them all at the education center.”

What will my day-to-day be like?

Industrial machinery mechanics spend most of their time in manufacturing settings. This is because the manufacturing industry employs 53% of these workers. Wholesale trade employs a distant second at about 12%. Mechanics typically work during regular shifts, but occasionally they are called in for emergency checks on equipment runs which can happen any time, day or night. Working with industrial machinery is often dangerous so safety protocol, including wearing PPE, is a big part of the job.

People who like to work alone may be drawn to this type of work. Dolph said that 90% of the time he’s working solo. As far as manual labor goes, he said, "there is some lifting involved but for larger jobs we pair up with additional technicians for safety and assistance. The role of a ROQ Install Technician is to assemble equipment and help the client get setup for success, including mitigating any issues they have getting equipment operational and training on the equipment.

"You have a set amount of time to accomplish a task, so the more refined you become, the shorter the hours. When I first started, I definitely had some long days, but a lot of that was self-induced.”

What kind of work will I be able to get?

The job titles most associated with this line of work include industrial maintenance mechanic, building maintenance mechanic, millwright, maintenance technician and shift mechanic. It’s also common to see roles more specific to different types of machinery, such as industrial press mechanic.

There’s plenty of potential for career growth in this field. As a maintenance tech’s career progresses, they can find themselves moving into more supervisory roles, to superintendents, plant managers, building engineers, and others.

Dolph started as a technician, then worked up to senior technician. “Then I took on the education aspect and customer support part of the job," he said. "This job can go as far as you want to take it. For example, as you get more familiar with the equipment, you can move into sales if you have that kind of personality. And who better to sell the equipment than someone who knows everything about it?”

What can I expect to earn as an industrial machinery mechanic?

The BLS reports that in 2022, the median wage for industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers is $59,380. Earnings depend on the company you work for, your skill level and experience and whether you’re a full-time employee or you run your own business and work as a contractor.

Dolph said most of his company's technicians are contractors. Some of them work for ROQ.US, and some have their own businesses where they work on other types of machinery. “When you’re working as a contractor, you tend to set your own rate," he said. "Some techs only work two weeks out of month, while others work four weeks and take a week off. In this industry, contracting is appealing because you can create your own schedule.”

Ibarra said earning potential is more about self-development and time commitment. “If you put in your time and learn to specialize in different equipment, it allows you to actually charge what you're worth for what you’re doing and you can make a pretty good living," he said. "Somebody in this career can expect to make anywhere from $45,000 to $120,000 a year.

"Anybody who wants to get into this field can," he added. "They could be doing anything from scheduling or tech support over the phone or they can be a field tech or a local tech. You can also be a traveling tech. You can choose to work locally or not. For me, I travel up to 80% of the time. I recommend this career to people who love machines, who like working on stuff, who love working with tools. If you love your power drill, this job would definitely be a lot of fun for you.”

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.