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Crafting a Brighter Future: Redefining Manufacturing for Generation Z

Crafting a Brighter Future: Redefining Manufacturing for Generation Z

Growing up in southeast Texas surrounded by the Gulf Coast energy trades industry was like being in the heart of manufacturing. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how cool a career in manufacturing could really be.

My goal as a member of one of the youngest generations in the manufacturing community—let’s just say I wasn’t around for Y2K—is to make sure today’s kids know the truth about our sector.

I was lucky enough to have one of those “aha” moments a few years ago where I realized how incredible manufacturing really was. I was working for a plant turnaround service company in Laurel, Montana, and I witnessed something that blew my mind: a group of people hoisted a massive round facing tool up with a crane, and I watched in awe as it refaced a flange right on the spot. Sparks flew, precision was on display, and I couldn’t help but think, “This is where I want to be.”

But sparks aren’t always enough. Logistically, how would I carve out a path to a balanced, stable, and lucrative career?

Setting a Strong Foundation

Turns out, machining companies often offer incredibly balanced, stable, lucrative career opportunities. And while there are so many different paths you can take to achieve success in manufacturing, here are some tips that have helped me along my journey:

Always be learning.
Currently, I’m pursuing my degree in Energy Trades and Manufacturing Management at Lone Star College while balancing my full-time career as an estimator at Humble Machine Works. It’s a challenging workload to say the least, but I’m passionate about continual improvement; adopting the mindset that there is always more to learn helps you stay humble, motivated, curious, and therefore interested and fulfilled by your work. From a career advancement perspective, this type of mindset is what shows others that you’re a self-motivated leader and separates you from your peers.

Relentlessly pursue a healthy work-life balance.
I am incredibly grateful for the support system that surrounds me, and my family takes center stage. They are my rock, my cheerleaders, and my motivation to keep pushing forward. Prioritizing time with them is a non-negotiable for me, so I’ve learned to become a master of time blocking.

Alex Knapp In the Shop Paperless Parts
Alex with his family.

Some people might look at my schedule and see one big tangled mess—but I put in the effort to stay organized. For example, I prefer to balance my time per class, dedicating around two hours of focused homework each night, 4-5 nights per week. I plan to stick to a similar schedule when I begin pursuing my four-year degree starting in the fall. I still make sure to allocate time for relaxation and recharging. At my full-time job at Humble Machine, I put in hours from 7:00 AM–5:30 PM Monday–Thursday, and I get off at 3:30 PM on Fridays. It’s a juggling act, but with my family by my side, I’m able to navigate the beautiful chaos.

Technology is your best friend.
As a Gen Z-er, that’s easy for me to say. But in all honesty, software helps keep me sane. One of the game-changers in my journey of managing workload and staying motivated has been Paperless Parts’ quoting software.

Not only does it save me time on repetitive quoting and estimating admin tasks that could keep me at the office late, but the gamification aspect adds a layer of excitement and motivation to my workflow. Paperless Parts turns mundane tasks into engaging challenges where I can track my progress and compete with myself to reach new heights.

Let’s say one day I managed to breeze through a series of quotes or tasks efficiently. The next morning, I wake up with the mentality that today is going to be even better than the previous day. Modern technology can help take the guesswork out of your performance and allow you to push yourself further and raise the bar for success.

Breaking Stereotypes & Building Futures

Let’s never discount the magic of manual machining and programming fundamentals; that’s the seed from which the tree grows. I still learned about these machines and strategies in every one of my classes before being taught how to use CAD/CAM software.

But in today’s rapidly evolving landscape, it’s clear that companies failing to embrace the ongoing digital transformation are being left behind. Year after year, the significance of this trend becomes increasingly apparent: those who fail to adapt risk falling into obscurity.

My generation possesses a distinct advantage in this changing paradigm—we enthusiastically embrace new technologies, enabling us to pursue careers we’re truly passionate about while continuously acquiring knowledge.

The sheer excitement of where this industry is headed is what keeps me going. Manufacturing is a world where technology meets craftsmanship, where innovation takes center stage, and where ideas come to life. From designing intricate components to operating state-of-the-art machinery, every day at our shop is an adventure filled with the opportunity to push boundaries.

I can’t do it alone, though—so how do we inspire the next generation of manufacturing rockstars?

For starters, we need to break free from the outdated stereotype of being a mundane industry and show the world what manufacturing truly is: a place where your work is fascinating and makes a real impact on the world.

Researching the parts I manufacture and understanding their impact fuels my desire to keep the machining spirit alive. For example, one part we worked on went 5,000 feet under water to go onto what’s called a “christmas tree.” I got to see a video of it in action, and I’ve never geeked out more over anything. It’s so important to have content that showcases just how crucial the components we make really are.

For example, the green object in the beginning of the video below is what’s called a “hot stab,” and its something we have produced at Humble Machine. It’s a subsea hydraulic coupling device that transmits hydraulic fluid from a topside hydraulic power unit to energize subsea equipment. Essentially, it is a hydraulic quick-acting coupling designed for deep-sea application.

What would happen if we captured the imagination of the younger generations? We’d witness a wave of adaptable individuals flooding into the industry, eager to contribute their unique skills and perspectives.

If you’re reading this, I encourage you to find new ways to showcase the awesomeness of your shop: show off your capabilities, the final destination of your products (maybe that’s outer space), and your cutting-edge technologies. Bringing more people into the manufacturing fold has the power to revolutionize things in ways we can’t even imagine. It’s not just about filling job positions; it’s about creating a cultural shift.

Together, let’s create a ripple effect to keep machining not only alive, but thriving.

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Alex Knapp is a full-time outside salesman/estimator at Humble Machine Works in Humble, TX. He is passionate about advocating for machining and manufacturing for his generation and is constantly looking to learn and implement new skills and technologies. To connect with Alex on LinkedIn, visit his profile here