Piecing Together a Career
Three female students pull back curtain on working in a male-dominated field
Preparing for a career in the traditionally male-dominated field of manufacturing, some might be tempted to call Ariana Noss, Jennifer Bordeau and Morgan Brux trailblazers. But don’t tell them that.
With each one pursuing a Machine Tool Technician technical diploma at Fox Valley Technical College while already working in the manufacturing sector, these young women say they have little time to ponder their unique status in today’s workforce.
Fortunately, with October being Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, the trio did carve out a bit of time to talk about why a career in manufacturing intrigues them, how their interests led them to FVTC, and why they feel other young women should join them in the manufacturing workplace.
On the Fast Track in High School
Morgan Brux was a sophomore at Shiocton High School and working as a youth apprentice when she began Start College Now through FVTC. The program allowed Morgan to take classes that fulfilled the requirements for a high school diploma plus the requirements needed to earn an Industrial Welding Technology associate degree at FVTC.
“I worked in the morning, went to my high school for a few classes during the day and came to the college for class at night,” Morgan explains. “I earned my associate degree at the same time that I graduated from high school in 2020.”
Morgan was working at Fox Valley Tool and Die when she was introduced to machining while on the job. She found herself back at FVTC soon after and will complete a Machine Tool technical diploma this fall.
“Welding and machining go hand in hand. I can weld something and then go machine it, too,” Morgan says. “In machining, you need to know 200 different types of tools, and what they’re used for, and you have to understand different kinds of programming needed to set parts up in the machine. You never stop learning.”
College Tour is a Gamechanger
Jennifer Bordeau is finishing her senior year at Hortonville High School while she works at Modular Web Solutions in Greenville and takes Machine Tool classes at night. Taking advantage of dual credit classes, Jennifer earned her Basic Welder certificate through FVTC.
In the fall of 2022, she attended the college’s open house to learn more about welding programs and ended up touring the machine tool lab. Talking to the instructors, Jennifer says their upfront style, and explaining what she’d learn in the Machine Tool program, won her over.
“I knew I didn’t want a job where I would sit at a desk. I want to go to work every day and do something that forces me to think,” Jennifer says. “Machining is like a big puzzle to me. Taking the material out and doing something so precise with it that you can put it back together and make an engine work is mind-boggling to me.”
Slow Day Credited for Introduction to Machining
Ariana Noss graduated from Clintonville High School and was already in the workforce when she was first introduced to machining. In 2020, while working in the fabrication area at Seagrave Fire Apparatus, Ariana was asked if she would be willing to change things up and help in the machine shop. She went for it and never looked back.
“A co-worker taught me the basics of the trade. He took me under his wing and nurtured my interest in machining,” Ariana explains. “I just fell in love with it then and kept going. I didn’t know how to work a hand drill when I went to the machine shop but look at me now.”
In 2022, Ariana moved to a machining position at Walker Forge in Clintonville with the intention of starting the Machine Tool program at FVTC. She currently takes classes during the day and works at night. Despite her hectic schedule, she values her time in the FVTC machine tool lab.
“The instructors do a wonderful job of making the lab environment an understanding place to make mistakes and learn and grow from them,” Ariana says. “Their ability to help us learn and grow from these sorts of challenges in a non-judgmental way is very important. It creates a good learning atmosphere.”
Marching in Place
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds women currently represent 29% of the manufacturing workforce. If current trends hold, females will represent 30% of the sector’s workforce in 2031. The Manufacturers Alliance Foundation refers to that minimal movement as “marching in place.”
“I understand why there are not a lot of females in machining. It takes a special person to be able to do it,” Morgan explains. “I am the only female on the shop floor where I work, but I don’t feel any different walking into work every day. We’re all just coworkers. And I’m doing what I love to do.”
So, what can be done to address the gap? Ariana, Jennifer and Morgan have a few ideas. While they grew up in families that introduced them to the trades at a young age, they suggest those who don’t have that exposure at home look to their schools for help.
“This is the most important thing I want to say. Everybody—male or female—whether it’s machine tool, welding, pipefitting, plumbing, electrician, whatever it is, just go for it,” Jennifer asserts. “Youth apprenticeships, tech education classes and Start College Now are right there for you. You can explore the trades while you’re in high school and you don’t even have to pay for it. What do you have to lose?”
In the video below, Ariana, Jennifer and Morgan share the one thing anyone must like to do if interested in machining.
Employment outcomes for FVTC Machine Tool 6 months after graduation
100% employment rate
$50,160 average annual salary