Women in Manufacturing: Get to know Sarah Adkins from our Norfolk Service Center!

Monday, 22 Jul 2019

Adkins is the newest spotlight in our Women in Manufacturing series. Sarah has been with Fairbanks Morse since September 2018—she is a hard-working shop mechanic and a full-time mother.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get into this trade as a woman—we’re still opening people’s eyes to it, even in 2019.”

Tell us a bit about your job and what your work looks like day to day.

I am currently a shop mechanic. So, you know how you get Lego™ sets for your kids? They have to follow the instructions and put it together—well, we play with giant, greasy Legos™ all day, but some of our Legos™ weigh 500 pounds. A lot of our day-to-day is cleaning and measuring parts. I spend a lot of time with calibrated tools doing precision measurements as small as a 10,000th of an inch. We try to figure out if there’s a problem or why a component failed, and if it didn’t fail then just making sure it’s fine, then rebuilding it so we can return it to the customer’s operation.  Most of what we do here is for the government; very rarely do we work on non-government projects. As of July 1st, my job title will be the Material Supervisor. In that position, I will maintain the inventory of the parts for the jobs, ensure compliance with safety regulations, training, inspections, and certifications.

How did you arrive at your current position? What attracted you to a career in manufacturing?

My grandfather was determined that my sister and I were going to learn useful skills, so he taught us welding and mechanics when we were kids. My dad was in theater, so we did stage crafting, we built sets, and all of that stuff. We were always very handy. As small children, we knew how to use power tools, so it was a natural step for us to go into these kinds of fields. My sister is a sound engineer and travels all around the world. I went to school for welding and mechanics and I am getting ready to go back to college to finish my Bachelors in Environmental Health and Safety. I am currently an OSHA-certified technician. Initially, I was a mechanic in the Navy—I was an Engineman third class in the Navy with Tim Johnson, who is currently the Norfolk Service Manager at Fairbanks Morse. He and I served together, so he’d been trying to get me to come to the shop for years. I was a stay-at-home mom for 11 years and eventually started job hunting. I was coming out to Norfolk, VA to visit and I told Tim, ‘Hey, I’m coming out to visit’ and he said, ‘Nope, you’re coming for a job interview’.

Have you had any mentors at Fairbanks Morse that have helped you achieve your career goals?

A field service technician down in Houston was my chief in the Navy. Both he and Tim Johnson are my go-to’s for questions on engines. He used to be a diesel instructor for the Navy, but he retired from that and came to work for Fairbanks, so he knows a lot about engines. When I have questions, I normally ask one of them. I also go to others here in the shop—they know so much about all the components.

For young women exploring career choices, how would you explain the benefits of a career in manufacturing? What advice would you give young women who are interested in the industry?

It’s a hard field to get into as a female, I won’t lie. I mean, I applied at other companies that wouldn’t give me a shot because I didn’t know anyone there, even with all of my experience. It’s incredibly difficult to get in to as a woman—we’re still opening people’s eyes to it, even in 2019.

My big advice would be that when you go to school—if you go to school—or if you join an apprentice program, make contacts! Networking is very important, especially in this industry. You don’t have to prove how tough you are. That’s one of the biggest problems with females in mechanics is that they end up injuring themselves or getting burned out trying to prove themselves.

This is truly one of the most fun jobs I have had, and I’ve tried other jobs. I’ve tried being a banquet manager, a bartender, and I’ve tried call centers. They’re not fun in my opinion, they stress me out. With this job, I have a really good time with my work. I come home at the end of the day all greasy and gross and can tell how much I got done by how dirty I am. There’s nothing more gratifying than hearing that everything is running perfectly and that the customers are really happy with your work.  As far as I am concerned—by me doing a good job—I am protecting my kid’s lives. So, you still do get to be a mom, you still get to be feminine (in your own weird way), but it’s fun! You get to play all day and get paid for it.

What’s your favorite thing about working at Fairbanks Morse?

Well, besides working on the engines, everyone who works here is family. This is a very family-oriented company. Your coworkers are your friends here, they’re your lifeline. We do everything together. It’s an atmosphere where everyone is there for each other; the support here is through the roof. If I am ever having a bad day, they talk with me about it or, if I have some great news, everyone is excited for me. It’s a really fun place. You have way more positives than negatives. This is our happy place.

What’s been your best moment at Fairbanks Morse so far?

There are a lot. With each job, you work with different people and do really fun stuff. For example, we try to have team building barbeques every month. When we worked on the cylinder heads for a military vessel over winter break (it was a rushed job), so it was really team oriented. We were training a couple of new employees and we spent the holidays together getting the job done. We did it, got it done right, everyone was happy, and the vessel is out on the ocean and running great. It’s hard to explain the camaraderie of so many people coming together to get one project done. Normally, it would be two to four people working on a project, but it was everyone taking part to make sure it got done quickly. Everyone was really festive because it was the holidays—it was a lot of fun.

The big bosses are cool here, they are good people. They come and talk to you and ask how your day is going. It doesn’t matter if they’re a VP or what their job title is, they absolutely care about every single employee and they really make it a point to check on you and make sure you are good. How they work the system here with communication and corporate involvement is quite amazing. When they say they care about safety, they are not kidding.

What are some of your favorite activities outside of work?

Well, I’m the mother of an 11-year-old, so the majority of what I do outside of work is 11-year-old based. My true favorite activities are reading grown-up books and watching TV—I don’t get to do those things. I take my daughter to the beach, we go to the trampoline park, theme parks around here, and the aquarium. So that’s normally what I do—mom stuff.

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