Next Up: Machinist

At Brightpoint, Heilie Sheppard positioned herself for a job she loves in machining and career advancement in mechanical engineering.

At Brightpoint, Heilie Sheppard positioned herself for a job she loves in machining and career advancement in mechanical engineering. 

Having excelled in robotics, Heilie landed a new machining job her first semester at Brightpoint, but she realized she wanted a state-certified apprenticeship. After several courses in precision machining, she leveraged her relationships at Brightpoint to secure a machinist apprenticeship at Amsted Rail, a world leader in manufacturing components for freight and transit railcars, that would lead to a machinist journeyman card. She’s on a path to complete her apprenticeship and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in two years, using the tuition reimbursement program at Amsted. 

Here’s how Heilie scaled up her career:

Gain skills that you’ll use on the job

If one of the production lines goes down at Amsted Rail because of a broken part, Heilie fabricates the replacement part in the company’s machine shop. She usually runs manual lathes and mills, turning parts by hand, but she’s started using computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, which she also studied at Brightpoint, to make new components to replace broken ones.

“Most of my skills are because of Brightpoint,” Heilie said. “It helped me understand the basics: how to go about making and checking different parts and the formulas you need to calculate cutting speeds.” 

In two of her favorite classes, she learned traditional and modern approaches to machining—on the same technology that she uses in her job. For one of her most challenging class assignments, she made a part on a manual lathe that included incising a hole and a gripping diamond pattern to meet the standards established by National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

“Most people look at it and think it’s a round piece of metal,” Heilie said, “but it was challenging because you had to meet certain dimensions and thread it, which was basically cutting the same pattern found on bolts. It took me until the very last semester to finish that part.”

Get the support to succeed

During one of her classes, Heilie learned about scholarship opportunities in precision machining, and once she applied, she received enough financial aid to earn two precision machining technology certificates in two years with zero costs for tuition, fees or textbooks. 

“I didn't have to pay anything out of pocket,” Heilie said. “That was a huge relief for me.”

When she was searching for a new job that didn’t require her to travel an hour for work and had a state-certified machinist apprenticeship program, she asked her instructor for help.

Dustin Bell, program head of machine technology at Brightpoint, outlined the local machining industry and discussed options for which she might be best suited. When Heilie honed in on what she wanted to do, Dustin advised her on how she could leverage her school and work experience to successfully apply for a job that requested more years of experience.

“Brightpoint has given me the opportunity to become a certified machinist, and to go higher in the company. I wouldn't know Amsted Rail if it wasn't for Brightpoint and my teachers helping me get to where I am now.”

Heilie Sheppard

Heilie Sheppard at Amsted Rail machine shop

“Dustin actually sent my resume over to Amsted Rail’s machine shop supervisor at the time, and he helped me get an interview scheduled,” Heilie said. 

When it came time for the interview, she didn’t leave anything out, even communicating her course schedule for the next two semesters and how she could balance her courses and workload. 

“They said, ‘We've never had someone come in this prepared, sharing their entire schedule,’” Heilie said. Shortly after, they offered her the job.

Build on your education

Thanks to support from Amsted’s tuition reimbursement program, she’s returning to Brightpoint to continue courses in mechanical engineering, with plans to transfer to a four-year university and the hopes of eventually advancing at Amsted Rail.

“I like that I have a lot more opportunities to grow throughout the company,” Heilie said. “If I play my cards right, when I become certified as a machinist at Amsted Rail, I will also get an mechanical engineering technology degree.”

“Brightpoint has given me the opportunity to become a certified machinist and to go higher in the company. I wouldn't know Amsted Rail if it wasn't for Brightpoint and my teachers helping me get to where I am now.” 

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