Machinist Susanne More once worked at a 600-person manufacturing company. Each department was assigned a different-colored shirt: White for quality control, red for assembly, dark blue for machining. The shirts were intended to prevent workers from leaving their assigned areas. "There was no cross-training," More says.

Mack Engineering, the 30-person precision machine shop where More has worked for the past 13 years, is a very different environment. "You can go to different areas, bounce off ideas, get a fresh pair of eyes," More says.

`Every Day Is Different'

More values the wide range of skills she's been able to acquire in a small company. "I've learned to set up tooling on five of the six machines," she says. Although her official title is Lead Machinist, she fills in when someone is missing from the Quality Control department. She estimates that she has trained a dozen new employees. In addition, there are special projects, like a recent revamping of the tool crib. "Every day is different," More says.

"There isn't much hierarchy," More says. "In a larger company, you'd never find someone from the front office deburring parts (a finishing method used in industrial settings and manufacturing environments). That can happen here if we have an order that needs to go out."

There isn't hierarchy, but there is room for advancement. Employees get regular reviews directly from the company owner, Jackie Salisbury. More says that Salisbury is "exceptionally good at praise and feedback." The company has paid for additional training to help More move up the ladder.

`Like A Bigger Family'

Salisbury also attended More's wedding and her daughter's graduation party. The entire company celebrates productive months by putting brats or steaks on the grill. There is a holiday potluck. The small company "is like a bigger family," More says.

More acknowledges that most people don't know about the career potential in manufacturing. She began working in retail after high school. Her boyfriend's sister worked for Mack and told her they were looking for people. "I took to it immediately," More says. More spent three years at Mack before moving west for a few years. She stopped in to say hello when she was back for a family visit, and they offered her a job. This time, she has no intention of leaving.

"The machinery keeps changing. It's motivating. It's fun. There's definitely a financial reward," More says. "Maybe some people want one job for 20 years. I'm a little more ambitious."

Laura French is principal of Words Into Action, Inc., and is a freelance writer from Roseville.