Women in Aerospace & Manufacturing: Sharon Ernst
While cargo lining and part assembling at an aerospace machine shop in Seattle, Sharon Ernst discovered her career goals of becoming a machinist. “Building and making things has always interested me… and while I was working at the shop, I thought this is really cool, I want to make this my career,” said Ernst.
After some time, Ernst left her job at the aerospace machine shop and began working as a machine operator at a different shop in Seattle. While working at the new machine shop, she heard from a coworker about the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) apprenticeship program and decided it was something she really wanted to participate in. Ernst said, “I wanted to be a journeyman and have a good livable wage.” Her current shop did not provide an apprenticeship program, therefore she decided to interview at a shop, in Tacoma, that did provide a program for apprentices. In her interview, she shared her goals of becoming a journey-level machinist and after working there a few months, she approached her manager about starting the apprenticeship program. Ernst said “I had to ask if they were currently taking apprentices and what I needed to do. [My manager] told me I had to take the compass test and it went from there.” After 10 months of working at the new shop, Ernst started the AJAC apprenticeship program. Ernst finished the program, received her journey-level card, and has worked as a journey-level machinist running a number of machines such as, 4, 5, and 6 axis, and multi-spindle machines. Ernst said “I love getting the kind of work [where] I get a new job that I haven’t ran before and can make it better by proving it out.”
While going through the AJAC apprenticeship program, Ernst says she improved her math and production skills. Ernst also says, with her journey-level card, she is taken a lot more seriously. Over the years Ernst has had to overcome many obstacles working in a shop full of men and says “I had to prove myself and make sure I did extremely well because I am always going to be looked at.” With her journey-level card, Ernst is able to prove that she is experienced and knows what she is doing, “I feel the card means everything,” she said.
Ernst’s advice for women interested in machining is to definitely participate in the apprenticeship program because it is what helped her earn her journey-level card. In the future, Ernst plans to go back to school and take classes learning about programming and management. Ernst plans on working as a machinist for a while and hopes to eventually become a floor supervisor.
To find out how you can become an apprentice and launch your career in aerospace or manufacturing, visit AJAC’s Get Started Section.