'A sturdy and successful career at Caterpillar'

October 20, 2010
By: Vicki Bell

Articles about metal manufacturing pop up daily on the news sites I frequent and in my Google alerts. I scan them for information I think is important — both the good news and the not so good — to share with those who visit thefabricator.com.  

There's been a preponderance of the latter in the last few years, and we’ve been told by the people with the crystal balls that we shouldn't expect conditions to improve significantly for some time. We also have been told that things likely will never be the way they were in times of peak prosperity before the Great Recession. 

I get it, you get it … we all get it. Things are tough all over. That being said, there are reasons for hope that the worst is behind us and conditions are improving. Just ask newly hired Caterpillar Engineer Josh Jensen.

Among the articles I ran across earlier this week was one attributed to the Chicago Tribune (which is going through bankruptcy and a "debauched executive culture" crisis).  Posted on tradingmarkets.com, the article "Glimmers of hope for Illinois manufacturing," offered up signs that manufacturing is picking up in the financially beleaguered state

"After a wrenching 2009, the Peoria-based behemoth (Caterpillar) and many other Illinois-based manufacturers are seeing glimmers of recovery this year stemming from demand in developing markets, a modest rebound in the domestic auto market and inventory rebuilding by companies whose executives had been holding off on orders. In fact, manufacturing is one of the only sectors to show signs of renewed life.

"Companies such as Lapham-Hickey Steel, a Chicago-based steel processor, and Cobra Metal Works, an Elgin-based maker of airbag components, report some rehiring, while others, such as Swiss Precision Machining Inc., of Niles, say they have restored workers to full-time hours. At Caterpillar's sprawling riverside factory in East Peoria, a second shift was resumed in August after 14 months of single-shift production."

But the article cautioned, as it seems all articles about the recovery do these days, that the "minirevival has yet to prove its durability, and recent indicators signal some slowing." It cited Navistar Inc., a Warrenville-based truck and engine maker, as an example of companies that are "keeping a tight rein on hiring for now." 

Josh Jensen appears to be pooh-poohing the naysayers and is very optimistic about his future with Caterpillar. It wasn"t always so. When Jensen’s 2009 engineering internship with the company was canceled, he was bitter: "I really didn't want to work at Caterpillar." Now one of 80 engineers newly hired by the company, Jensen said, "I don’t feel my job security is in jeopardy at all. I feel I can have a sturdy and successful career at Caterpillar." 

Now, if you were in Josh's shoes being interviewed for the article, what would you have said? I doubt that you would have bitten the hand that had just begun to feed you by expressing any doubt about the health of your employer or your employment. I am so hoping that Josh really is optimistic about a sturdy — don’' think I've ever heard that word used to describe a career before — and successful career, and that his optimism is well-founded. We need it to be so. 

Want more good news? General Electric is investing $432 million to establish U.S. Centers of Excellence for designing and manufacturing refrigeration products. The four new facilities will be located in Louisville, Ky.; Bloomington, Ind.; Decatur, Ala.; and Semer, Tenn., and the investment is expected to create 500 new "green" jobs by 2014. Stories like this are welcome on my computer screen. Can't get enough of them.

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209