Completely changing your career path can be scary. However, these uncertain times promote new opportunities and offer new beginnings. We just need to be flexible, adaptable and keep an open mind. Kylie Christensen coincidentally did just this many years ago. Today she happily says she has found her niche in electronics.
How did you start your career in electronics?
My first exposure to electronics was through my uncle who is a technician. It was when I was at school. Back then, I actually thought that a technician was only a male job. After high school, I worked in a nursing home and in retail. Once, one of my friends offered me a job in electronics at a company he worked for and I decided to try it. This is when I really fell in love with electronics.
I started as a floor assembler; within a few weeks, I became the Assistant Stores Manager. When this company was sold to an overseas owner a few years later, I followed my boss to a different electronics company. There I met this lady. She was a female engineer and thanks to her I realized that electronics and manufacturing were not only for men. Seeing her was the WOW moment when I realized that I actually could be a technician. It was the first time I was exposed to the SMT line. When I saw this woman working on this amazing machine, programming it, sending boards through it, I thought to myself that if she could do it, I can do it too. She was such an inspiration for me. She showed me that I could achieve my goals.
How did you find your way to Elexon Electronics?
I have always been lucky with having the right people around me. Years ago, I had a boss named Keith who saw something special in me and pushed me further. This was when I did my first original IPC course and I started doing my Certificate IV in Engineering to Production. Then I moved to a company called Filtronics and started working in defence. I originally did specialize in soldering and assembly and then I was moved to the cleanroom where all the intricate defence products are made in complete dust- free environment. There I was working for example on F1-11s.
At that time, most of the engineering companies were moving overseas. The whole industry pretty much disappeared from Australia. I was determined though to stay at electronics and I kept looking for jobs. I found a little company called IEDEC, the predecessor of Elexon. One of my girlfriends worked there. I approached them, but there were no jobs going. Luckily, they hired me anyway. It has been 16 years since I started working for Leigh Bateman, the founder of today’s Elexon Group of Companies. Now I work for one of the daughter companies – Elexon Electronics and I am very proud I have seen the company grow from one of just a few employees to a group of companies employing about a hundred staff.
What is your current role at Elexon Electronics?
I work as the Stores Manager. I receipt the goods; do inspections of new products and I also liaise with the Quality Control Manager. I make sure that all the necessary components are in stock and have been recorded in the system. We have a large store, and as the company grows, the store grows as well. It is very important to be organized. I also do job analysis, checking the cost of the parts we are using.
Additionally, I am responsible for the maintenance of the wave soldering machine. I really enjoy this part of my job.
Recently, management appointed me in the role of the IPC trainer (IPC is a set of assembly standards in electronics). My plan is to gradually certify the whole production team. We will be doing a module a week so we can comfortably fit in our training within the busy production schedule. The goal is that all of our employees understand customers’ request for products in accordance with a specific IPC class. There are three different classifications: class one is low-end electronics; class two is computers, home appliances and other general electronics; class three is for electronics made to specification for defence, aerospace and the medical industry.
In a nutshell, I would like everyone to go through the IPC training. I think it is beneficial both for our workers and our company. Our assemblers will have an excellent working knowledge of the acceptability of assemblies in electronics and the company will have confidence in their fully qualified staff.
Why do you think manufacturing is not seen as an attractive job for young women?
I’m not sure. Manufacturing is such a broad area where us women can grow. There are no limits. We can excel in every part of the process and make our way all the way to the top.
Maybe we can blame stereotypes. When I started at electronics, there were almost no female workers in this industry. Probably because of the perception that it is a ‘guys’ job’. Luckily, this has been changing a lot.
When I think about it, manufacturing can possibly scare people off because they think of it as a dirty factory job. But it is not just factory work. We are making people’s lives better with what we make here. We are saving someone’s life with the reliable medical equipment we produce.
I, for example, originally wanted to be a make-up artist. I wanted a glamorous girl’s job too. But now, I actually see electronics manufacturing as a glamourous career. When I tell people what I do, they are always surprised and very impressed. It is a great job and I am proud of what I do.
How can we make the manufacturing industry more appealing to women?
Manufacturing is clean work and it is very well suited to women. Women have the best hand-eye coordination and attention to detail. The problem is that women are usually not recommended these jobs by recruiters or they don’t think of themselves as being suitable for manufacturing positions.
Last year, I participated in a forum called ‘Women in Manufacturing’, organized by the Queensland Government. It was a real eye-opener for me. I learned, for example, that if a company wants to attract more female candidates to a certain position, they have better chances of success if they choose inclusive vocabulary in the job description and focus on typically feminine and emotional terms. The panel presenters also brought up that career advisors never mention manufacturing jobs as an option. Girls at school don’t learn about careers in manufacturing. This has to be changed.
During my career, I have met many mums that came to electronics just to give it a go and they stayed and loved it. It is refreshing to see women excelling in this field. I hope that stories like mine give other women hope and encouragement, especially at these uncertain times.