On the Job with Miranda Justice

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: November 5, 2012 - 10:39 AM
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Photo by Tom Witta; Miranda Justice, machinist

Photo: Tom Witta, Star Tribune

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Eighteen months ago, Miranda Justice recalled, "I was unemployed, without a car, living in a rented room in Wisconsin. I had worked in every fast-food place in town. Now, I have a great boyfriend, a nice place to live and a great job."

What made the difference was discovering her talent for machining and enrolling in the M-Powered program at Hennepin Technical College, where she got a chance to develop her aptitude and move into an in-demand career in medical device manufacturing.

Justice loves cars -- she has the emblem of her dream brand, Subaru, tattooed on her arm. But after training in automotive technology, she decided it was a better hobby than career. "I love it so much I wouldn't want to do it everyday. You're a parts swapper. You figure it out, bim-bam-boom," she said.

Still, her automotive training did confirm her mechanical aptitude. When she saw a "Help Wanted" sign hanging in the window of a Hudson, Wis., machine shop, she made up a resume and went in to fill out an application. "They were surprised I had a résumé," she said. She was called in for an interview and got the job.

Justice went through the two-week training in a week. "It just makes sense; you make the part, you measure it, if the numbers won't work, you fix it." She also discovered she loved the work. "You put a chunk of metal in a machine and it comes out a part," she said.

Over the next couple of years, Justice worked a series of jobs at small companies. Some were challenging, some were "grunt work." Most were temporary assignments. Then she heard about the M-Powered program. "I had the basic skills, but I thought this could give me a step up," she said. She took Level 1 of the program while working a 12-hour weekend shift, which left her free to focus on school during the week. When she signed up for Level 2, which focused on milling operations, she worked an 11-to-7 night shift after attending class from 5 to 9 p.m.

Justice was the only woman in her Level 1 class of 22 to opt for machine tool training in Level 2. The other five women in the program went into quality assurance. At the end of Level 2, Justice produced a part and submitted it for evaluation by the National Institute for Metalforming Skills (NIMS). The part had to be 100 percent compliant to pass -- and Justice passed on her first attempt. "It was everything I'd worked for in one block of metal," she recalled.

An M-Powered field trip to the Medical Design and Manufacturing show provided an inside look at medical manufacturing. "I knew this was something I wanted to get into," she said.

Why do you like medical device manufacturing?

There's no room for error. The greatest tolerance I have in the parts I make is five thousandths of an inch. There's one outside diameter that's so tight, we can't even exert pressure on a micrometer to measure it.

Where do you plan to go from here?

I want to be an all-round good machinist. The industry is changing. I want to learn more and move forward.

What advice would you give someone who's interested in a manufacturing career?

Never let anyone try to change you. Be yourself, work hard and follow your dreams. Plus if you're a machinist, you get away with crazy hair color.

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