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Old March 14th, 2018, 06:49 PM   #1
MDG1
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Landing a Controls job without experience?

Hello everyone,

I’m a new guy seeking to break into the industry. I am specifically hoping for some guidance related to dealing with lack of experience when applying for work.

Currently I work at a dead end job that offers no experience, it does however allow for lots of study time and over the last few months I have been learning all I can about the Controls industry. I have a 2 year Electrical EngTech diploma and am in a night school PLC program which has 4 courses and covers mostly Ladder Diagram in RSLogix 500/5000.

I realize most learning is done on the job and nothing can fully prepare me for REAL processes and systems until I'm there, but in the meantime I want to focus on becoming a good programmer and strong problem solver. To achieve this I practice and study as much as possible, and want to use either TwinCat3 and/or Codesys to learn the rest of the IEC 61131-3 Languages, as I only have RSLogix500 at home.

I love the idea of designing and building a project from scratch, fully documented (AutoCAD, etc) as a way to demonstrate my aptitude and enthusiasm to potential employers. I picked up an old SLC500 for practice and projects.

Am I on the right track here? Will a convincing portfolio of projects help push past the fact that I have no relevant job experience?

This field has a very steep learning curve and I want to be well prepared and as competitive as possible when applying for jobs. Any tips or suggestions for someone in my position would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
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Old March 14th, 2018, 11:21 PM   #2
willxfmr
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The two year diploma should help open a few doors, but in the long run it will take persistence. Check every job board looking for Engineering Tech jobs. Avoid maintenance jobs because, in my opinion, you will likely get pigeonholed as a Bubba, and getting out of that hole is not easy. Apply for every ET job you see, but be very up front that you lack experience. Sooner or later you will find someone kind enough, or desperate enough to take a flyer on you. Cold calling manufacturing firms as well as engineering companies won't hurt either.


Bubba.
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Old March 15th, 2018, 05:32 AM   #3
PLC Pie Guy
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MDG1.. I think you are on a great track and already have a damn good start.

I went into the Automation Controls industry without any formal training, simply an electrical ticket and a want to do it. Sure I had to pay for some extra courses out of pocket but it was worth every penny.
I have to disagree with the statement made that you should stay away from maintenance jobs. In my experience, a demanding maintenance position, at the right facility of course. Will give you some very good troubleshooting experience. Most places that are looking for a maintenance tech, either already have somebody looking after their Automation, who can always use some backup or they desperate for any skills to come through the door at all. Once you prove that you can do the work and you pull them from the flames a few times, you will gain a reputation and soon there will be opportunities that present themselves. Certainly going to an integrator and doing projects will give you Automation experience but if you want troubleshooting and hands on machine experience you should consider the Maintenance/Automation Technician route.
It all depends on what you want to spend your days doing. Programming at a desk or on the floor troubleshooting. I have found that a good "maintenance" position gives a bit of both. My title is "Automation Technician" but I'm as much a part of our "Maintenance" department as the Millwright. I get to design/build the control cabinets, do the drawings, programming all in my office and then do the commissioning on the floor and even the troubleshooting when the machine has a problem down the road. It allows me to know a machine very well while getting to wear many hats.
The real beauty of the maintenance position is that there are tons of them out there. Every brewery, food plant and lumber mill needs multiple maintenance techs. This means that when they call you for an interview, you treat it as if your interviewing them... What do you offer, how long have you been in business, do you support training???? If not, go to the next interview, negotiate some to get what you want.
My first "maintenance tech" position after my electrical apprenticeship gave me an office, a day job and 40 hours a week to study. That was my pitch! Also some courses and cabinets full of PLC equipment. Provided I was there to help with any problems.. They had nobody else and were struggling with basic control and electrical problems! It didn't pay well but a after a few years I moved to another position as an "Automation Tech" at a neighboring facility that does much better. That happened simply from working hard and gaining a bit of reputation.
From my experience and trying myself now to hire "Help" in the technician form is that they are few and far between. We are always hiring and always looking but unemployed maintenance techs are not out there. I can tell you that I turn down work be it a project or permanent employment at least a few times a month from some places that I would never imagine to contact me.
I guess the point is, had I simply said I'm only going to apply for Automation only Jobs at the beginner level, I likely would never have been able to work in this field.

Good luck!

Last edited by PLC Pie Guy; March 15th, 2018 at 05:36 AM.
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Old March 15th, 2018, 07:07 AM   #4
gclshortt
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MDG1
You are on the right track. Learn as much as possible. Knowing where to look is just as important as knowing.
http://accautomation.ca/programming/...ginners-guide/

Is there anything in your current job that you can automate. This would be an ideal opportunity to showcase your talent. Do the job before getting it.

Just a thought,
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Old March 15th, 2018, 07:38 AM   #5
Ron Beaufort
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there are TWO keys to success ...

(1) what you know that's important ... and ...
(2) who important knows that you know it ....

so ...

study - and learn ... absolutely study and learn ...

but ...

also start making a list of "contacts" who might be able to help you get a foot in the door ... friends, family, church members, and so on ...

keep in mind that MOST of the "best" job opportunities are NOT advertised ...

also ... if you really want to stand out from the herd, be able to pass the inevitable drug test ... (I am NOT joking about this) ...
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Old March 15th, 2018, 01:50 PM   #6
Jsu0234m
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Lookup Factory IO. Its a PLC trainer that has a bunch of different real world scenarios that you can program. Its a free trial for a month. Its pretty cool.
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Old March 15th, 2018, 08:42 PM   #7
plcdudexxx
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I agree with everything communicated here and there is a plethora of information both here on PLCtalks.NET and elsewhere. If your not on a budget I would recommend a few learning channels to get you going with some of the more modern controls hardware and networks. Try these youtube channels, I've found them pretty useful over the years.
1. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...M3nbs5QJ1ixdX-
2. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...GIFxgRW4ahZ-Cm
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Old March 16th, 2018, 07:07 AM   #8
T Gibbs
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+1 on the drug test. I've seen several people who I thought had great potential never get the chance to prove it because of the drugs
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Old March 16th, 2018, 08:09 AM   #9
PLC Pie Guy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T Gibbs View Post
+1 on the drug test. I've seen several people who I thought had great potential never get the chance to prove it because of the drugs
Is the drug testing a common theme for the USA?? I have had to pee in a cup for jobs in the Oilfields here and basically any petroleum job. But that's all. I have been in shipyards, lumber and pulp mills, crane facilities, and lots of food production without that requirement. Also my parent company is American and their orientation training includes a section about drug testing but I have never seen them actually do it. I have seen them let folks go who were obviously impaired but never a pre-employment screening. I wonder if this is driven by the employer or local labor standards and laws in the US, it just seems more commonly mentioned there than in Canada..
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Old March 16th, 2018, 08:41 AM   #10
T Gibbs
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Driven by workers comp insurance. Companies will get a lower rate if they drug test.
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Old March 16th, 2018, 09:02 PM   #11
willxfmr
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Pre-employment drug testing is SOP for the vast majority of companies here in the USA.

While I agree with PLC Pie Guy that a maintenance position will give you invaluable experience. For instance, there is no better teaching tool than to walk into work only to find out that the 4:55PM change that was made made isn't working as expected. Oh, and nobody has been able to reach the maker of the change since he left at 5:00PM. You often get the same learning opportunities on Sunday night, when you find out there were changes Saturday afternoon. Again, I'm only speaking from my personal experience, but I have been denied opportunities to switch to controls/automation on more than one occasion because "we can't afford to lose a good electrician". Being a worker that tries hard to maintain and improve your skill sets, and is willing to work 3rd shift will get you your choice of jobs at many different companies. However in my case it also means companies will be very reluctant to let you out of your dark and coffee fueled hole anytime soon. And if you try to apply fo automation/controls jobs outside of your current company, the first thing they see is years of experience as an electrician, but none in controls. What they don't understand is that in a modern manufacturing plant, the line between the two keeps getting narrower for those of us that that care enough to keep our skills current. So, I stand behind my statement that it can be a curse for advancement as well.

As for being willing to help out the existing control/automation people, I have found that the night shift Bubba, is not going to be given much opportunity to shine. Due in large part to the fact that all the "smart" people are long gone by the time you get to work, and not out of bed yet when you go home for the day. Combine that with the general consensus that if Bubba knew anything useful, he would be on days making a salary like the rest of the "smart people" do, and you can quickly find your good paying, steady job, is also the end of the road for you. Don't get me wrong, it's a far better life than many other dead end jobs, and is often very rewarding personally. However at the end of the day, you are still left wondering what the grass looks like on the other side of the fence.

Sorry for the ramble, but I thought I'd toss in my opinion where it might be useful.
Bubba.
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“Now will come the nay-sayers with all the reasons why you shouldn't do this. Some of them are teachers, and some of us are doers. Besides, you have got to let the smoke out of this equipment every now and then, or it starts to clog up the chimney.”
~Lancie1
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Old March 18th, 2018, 10:13 AM   #12
iraiam
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I agree with others, that a maintenance position will give you some exposure. That's how I got in. I had some company supplied PLC and HMI training as a Maintenance Technician. When they laid off in 2008, I changed industries. I was able to demonstrate solid PLC, HMI, Computer controls skills in my new career. Now I'm a full time Controls Technician for the last 6 years for a world wide company.

With that, I will also say, be ready to carry some responsibilities. It's my experience that the controls group is expected to carry a heavy load to justify the pay rate over the rest of maintenance. I am constantly given work to make modifications or additions to production lines. I have designed, built, and installed a few PLC/HMI solutions for obsolete relay logic panels.

And yes, drug testing is common in the US. For my current position, I had to pass a hair follicle drug screen, and for good reason in my opinion. It's an industrial environment. I get a certain piece of mind knowing that all my co-workers passed the same drug screen.

Last edited by iraiam; March 18th, 2018 at 10:20 AM.
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Old March 19th, 2018, 04:37 AM   #13
PLC Pie Guy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willxfmr View Post
Pre-employment drug testing is SOP for the vast majority of companies here in the USA.

While I agree with PLC Pie Guy that a maintenance position will give you invaluable experience. For instance, there is no better teaching tool than to walk into work only to find out that the 4:55PM change that was made made isn't working as expected. Oh, and nobody has been able to reach the maker of the change since he left at 5:00PM. You often get the same learning opportunities on Sunday night, when you find out there were changes Saturday afternoon. Again, I'm only speaking from my personal experience, but I have been denied opportunities to switch to controls/automation on more than one occasion because "we can't afford to lose a good electrician". Being a worker that tries hard to maintain and improve your skill sets, and is willing to work 3rd shift will get you your choice of jobs at many different companies. However in my case it also means companies will be very reluctant to let you out of your dark and coffee fueled hole anytime soon. And if you try to apply fo automation/controls jobs outside of your current company, the first thing they see is years of experience as an electrician, but none in controls. What they don't understand is that in a modern manufacturing plant, the line between the two keeps getting narrower for those of us that that care enough to keep our skills current. So, I stand behind my statement that it can be a curse for advancement as well.

As for being willing to help out the existing control/automation people, I have found that the night shift Bubba, is not going to be given much opportunity to shine. Due in large part to the fact that all the "smart" people are long gone by the time you get to work, and not out of bed yet when you go home for the day. Combine that with the general consensus that if Bubba knew anything useful, he would be on days making a salary like the rest of the "smart people" do, and you can quickly find your good paying, steady job, is also the end of the road for you. Don't get me wrong, it's a far better life than many other dead end jobs, and is often very rewarding personally. However at the end of the day, you are still left wondering what the grass looks like on the other side of the fence.

Sorry for the ramble, but I thought I'd toss in my opinion where it might be useful.
Bubba.
I can relate to this. Walking into **** at 2:00AM seems to be my life! I think a couple times I may have even caused the ****! All this said I guess I am the Bubba and the "Smart Guy" here. I only have a very small amount of backup coverage for a few hours in the evening and he doesn't do very much in the line of computer related work. He's hands on, on the floor plant electrician. If I need any amount of infrastructure work done I call a local construction electrical contractor group who likes to get a little industrial exposure. I wish I had more help, as I said previously, unemployed maintenance techs are not out there. I have to imagine that any route one picks to learn controls and automation will likely turn out to be a successful one at days end.

Last edited by PLC Pie Guy; March 19th, 2018 at 04:39 AM.
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