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I am currently getting a Master's of Applied Science in Aerospace engineering, but am interested in wind energy and therefore would maybe rather have any job in wind energy than something higher paying but in a less interesting field.

I'm looking at say becoming a technician for a few years, just to get outside for a few years as well as to get my foot in the door, as well as to gain some practical experience on the turbines so that if I do make my way (by promotion) into the office I'm not way out of touch. But will this damage my chances of getting the most out of my degree? Any general advice on how likely one is to get promoted from "blue-collar" job to office job within a company or across companies, if they have the relevant training?

UPDATE

Thanks all for the answers and comments, lots of good points on both sides. I did speak with someone last night from a turbine OEM and he said better to get into the company ASAP. I guess this question might be really industry-dependent. Likely being a mechanic at a Toyota dealership is not going to be as useful to becoming a Toyota engineer as being a technician for Siemens Gamesa to becoming a Siemens Gamesa engineer.

It will also depend on personal history. I do have a fair amount of practical experience in both small shop work as well as construction, and little office engineering experience, so I'm confident I could do both jobs but it's a question of getting a foot in the door.

My takeaway so far is: talk to people directly in the company and see what they recommend.

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    What makes you think it will be easy to get a job that probably doesn't require a college degree when you're working on a Master's? You being grossly overqualified for a technician position is probably more of an obstacle than moving up from technician to engineer would be. It's likely easier to get fieldwork opportunities as a junior engineer than get employed as a technician.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 18, 2021 at 14:22
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    Your question is arguably not "Does taking hands-on job damage opportunity later", because you need to compare it to something for the question to make sense. Rather the question seems to be something like "Is it better to take a hands-on job compared to a non-hands-on job in an adjacent field", which likely requires a ton of domain expertise to adequately answer (which we probably can't help with, beyond generally questioning why you think not actively using the skills you'd need in the job you want is the best way to get that job, but there may or may not be good reasons to believe this).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 18, 2021 at 17:10
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    Being a technician is hard work and requires a certain skillset. In wind energy it is also often an independent job, when you are up there, it is hard to ask your supervisor for help. Are you certain you are apt? Oct 19, 2021 at 6:18
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    Isn't this what internships are for? In my university there was a mandatory industry internship that was supposed to be work at shop floors and construction sites. A few years sounds like overkill.
    – ojs
    Oct 19, 2021 at 9:25
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    Just search for whatever eventual job track you are looking for but add "-Field" in the job title. There's plenty of demand for engineers who primarily do field work. Oct 19, 2021 at 15:30

4 Answers 4

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Why are you aiming for a blue collar job? I think its possible for you to aim to at least a junior engineer, not just a technician. You have the basic knowledge of it in aerospace engineering and some company are willing to give you the training. Just look in the requirement, some are willing to take all engineering background for the job, because you have that engineering mindset. I really suggest that you look for this type of company. Look for an entry level job in this field above the technician level. If its marked entry level, I'm sure the company is willing to invest for the time to train you.

In terms of promotion, it really depends on the company. Some company like mine gives the opportunity for technician to be promoted to senior/managerial level. However, it took 10+ years for them to achieve that. While on the other hand, for bachelor/master's degree holder, it is possible for them to apply for entry level manager position.

So it is your choice, I would say it is possible to climb up the ladder. But, I strongly suggest to go above technician level.

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    Been in places where the degree holding direct entry managers made the most expensive mistakes while those who came up the trade or long route did not. And those mistakes are never forgotten :)
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 18, 2021 at 7:02
  • Agree with you, of course nothing could beat the experience. However, in the case of the OP I'll still think that he can get higher position than technician level. In that case, although someone is a manager, they still not to consider that their technician is more experienced and hence values their technicians opinion seriously.
    – el-cheapo
    Oct 18, 2021 at 10:40
  • The 'not' in the above comment should've been 'need'
    – el-cheapo
    Oct 19, 2021 at 1:34
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Don't do this unless being a wind turbine tech is what you want to be.

Any job you are in sets the salary expectation for the next job you want. Certainly a $25/hr wrenching job won't get you the $80k/yr engineering job you want, and the skill sets for the two really don't overlap. Most maintenance managers don't actually know how to change out a bearing.

Frankly, I wouldn't hire a MS degree holder as a tech because they'd jet when the right job came along.

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    Agree, MS degree holder is 'overqualified' for a technician job.
    – el-cheapo
    Oct 18, 2021 at 4:47
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    @el-cheapo, I have no idea what the qualifications for a wind turbine tech are, but it is entirely plausible to me that a MS degree holder is underqualified.
    – emory
    Oct 18, 2021 at 23:29
  • @emory Or, possibly, both underqualified and overqualified simultaneously, by being overqualified in one area and underqualified in another.
    – nick012000
    Oct 19, 2021 at 5:54
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    @emory yes sorry for that. Technician needs technical skills (maybe able to change bearings or other parts) while an MS degree holder might not be able to do that, so yes it I think we can say he is underqualified. However, what I mean by overqualified is that he could achieve higher position in the organization hierarchy with that degree
    – el-cheapo
    Oct 19, 2021 at 9:55
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    As a counterpoint, I work in a senior position in an R&D heavy field. I would view someone who had practical experience very favorably if that was paired with a strong theory background too. The blue/white collar divide is a red herring in my opinion. Some of the best engineers I have started off "blue collar". There is no substitute for experience and relevant breadth of experience is crucial in R&D. So depending on the field, a couple of years working, and learning in the field could be invaluable. I'm based in the UK.
    – JNB
    Oct 19, 2021 at 11:27
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Let me answer from a somewhat different angle. There is a kind of imposter syndrome about having a degree, in a space where people have practical skills. This will not solve that.

You need to learn to handle that dynamic, which is a piece of not-easy people skills. A few years "in the trenches" won't fix it. Worst case you will end up doing it just as badly, just with a flavor of "darned guy with his never ending references to the stint of blue collar work in 2022" instead of "damn the office rat".

A little bit of experience can be good, but years of it is usually worth way less than years of actual engineering experience. Probably less than real experience in a neighboring field as well. My previous employer did a very clever thing, and sent the new engineers on a 2 week rotation in the factory. Got to know the guys and reap the low hanging fruits of knowing the stuff. Not enough to not stay humble about it.

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    Yeah, if Amazon did that between platform engineers and the actual fulfillment centers, make the engineers work on the floor picking orders during the holiday season, their systems would work much better! Oct 19, 2021 at 4:36
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica A better analogy for that would be Amazon sending their new engineers to work with the warehouse drone maintenance guys for a bit before assigning them to building better drones.
    – nick012000
    Oct 19, 2021 at 5:56
  • Agree with Nick here. This is also what happened at my old employer, the engineers were not expected to do factory work after that first rotation. I think "lets use the engineers as crunch time workers" is one of those things that sound better than they work irl (paper tiger, as we say in Norway). Sounds to me that you need a few good unions, not a hassle for the engineering staff ;)
    – Petter TB
    Oct 20, 2021 at 9:58
  • @PetterTB. True that making your engineers work the floor during crunch time is a huge waste. At the same time, having your engineers participate in deployment and testing of their designs, even as an observer, is both educational and fulfilling. I know too many engineers that haven't seen the end product of their designs enough to be good at their jobs. Oct 20, 2021 at 13:07
  • No arguments there. This also goes for the sales/marketing and the softer side of R&D. Eat your own dog food.
    – Petter TB
    Oct 21, 2021 at 11:52
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It depends - on how you phrase it on your CV.

Quite a few potential bosses will value practical experience in a related field. "fresh from university" is a derogatory term in many workshops and among craftsmen, and being not just a book person but someone who has made his hands dirty can get you respect among the people executing your engineering designs that other engineers don't have.

However, there is also a risk that potential bosses see you as someone working their way up from a blue-collar job. That can lead to lower wage offers and less focus on your actual skills.

That is why it is important to phrase that correctly on your CV. As gaining practical experience or something (I'm not good in writing CVs, but I've hired and I've seen a few hundred of them).

This is a general advise. People tour the world for a year after getting a nice severance package. How you phrase that determines if you make the impression of someone lazing off when they have the opportunity, or someone who has seen the world and gained insights into other cultures.

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    '"fresh from university" is a derogatory term in many workshops' <- This is a very important lesson that you don't get in school. Finding an employer willing to hire recent grads is much harder than it used to be. If you have the choice between an Intro and a Tech job, I would take the Intro job, but if you can't get the Intro job, it is much better to take the Tech job than let yourself flounder around for a few years looking for someone to hire you.
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 19, 2021 at 14:16

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