Training Manager Uses STEM Skills to Teach, Help Improve Operations

Women in STEM Spotlight

This month's Women of Raven Spotlight is Julie Larson, Training Manager for Raven Applied Technology.

Provide a brief overview of your education and job history.

I graduated from high school and started work with Raven about two weeks later. I thought I’d work here until I decided what I wanted to do (I still haven’t figured that out yet 😊). I enrolled in night classes through the University of South Dakota and completed about half of the credits needed for Business Administration. Life happened and I had to stop, and I haven’t been able to get back there. I’ve considered going back after I retire because I haven’t quit many things and it still haunts me. However, I have learned a lot of science and math skills by continuing to stay curious and creative throughout my career.

I started at Raven as a temporary team member in what was the Sportswear Division, which would now be considered part of Raven Aerostar. I was putting hang tags on John Deere snowsuits. Then, I moved into pulling orders and shipping. From there, I worked in quality control for Ballutes, a type of parachute for bombs. This would be my first experience at reading blueprints and process instructions. It set me up for the quality world — non-conformances, corrective actions, government inspections, and documentation.

I transferred to the then-Electronic Systems Division as an assembler. My passion for electronics started there. I assembled and soldered items for use in the military. After a couple of years, I moved into the quality inspection role — and ultimately ended up as Quality Supervisor. I managed production inspection, quality issues, and receiving quality. I was responsible for various reports and interacted closely with production managers and customers.

I was a proponent for creating our own training team. At the time, there was a very low unemployment rate, Sioux Falls was much smaller, and it was difficult to find anyone with prior experience. We originally hired someone from outside of Raven — but when she left, she recommended me for the trainer position. I started the training program there. I was a certified Trainer in five IPC (electronics manufacturing) standards, which was rare at the time. When the Electronic Systems business folded, I created a training program at Raven Aerostar, primarily for Project Loon and for the Madison, SD location. I moved to Raven Applied Technology in 2015.

Provide a brief overview of your current role and responsibilities at Raven.

My role as Training Manager includes creating and improving our training curricula and techniques to help our new production workers be as successful as possible on the production floor. We recently changed how we train to enhance engagement, which has been successful. I’m also responsible for our ISO certification, which involves setting up the internal audit team, ensuring audits are completed, organizing our ISO recertification audits, and managing our internal documentation system. Finally, I also oversee the creation of our process instructions, which we started earlier in 2020. This is basically taking a drawing and writing a process that is step-by-step, so you do not need to read a drawing to build a product.

How do you use math and science in your role?

I have taught a lot of STEM-related skills, including everything from basic electronics, component identification, basic math, fractions, and how to read a ruler to solder theory, types of flux, oxidation, soldering tip care, how to read a blueprint, tolerances, and specification interpretation. The list goes on.

Part of teaching manufacturing concepts, such as solder theory, involves analyzing quality issues. For example, if there is a soldering issue, you can usually tell what went wrong — whether it’s an issue with the metals or the team member’s technique. Once the problem has been identified, we take steps to mitigate it and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. These problem-solving skills are key in helping the team produce quality products.

Another way that I use science and critical thinking skills is in writing process instructions. Interpreting blueprints requires you to think like an engineer and visualize the assembly of a product or part. By taking these processes and making them into a step-by-step guide, we reduce the amount of room for error, especially for our new team members — setting them up to be more successful.

Finally, I use math and science to help report on and improve our training effectiveness. I use math in determining test scores. I calculate the success rate of our new team members by looking at the percentage of those that are retained. I also calculate the percentage of on-time training completions and send out monthly reports to help continuously improve our efforts across the company.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

At some point, I thought I’d like to be a teacher, but I also like business management. So, when the training role opened, I was able to get the best of both — instructing at a business. I like diversity, so knowledge of such a wide variety of topics and sharing what I know with others is very satisfying.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I am very happy any time I see someone have an “aha” moment. I might have to present something a few different ways before someone has their light bulb turn on. That has always been gratifying for me. Even a small thank-you for knowledge or assistance that I might have shared means a lot. I like helping people — whether that is through training/learning, mentoring, or even being a good listener, it is rewarding to know that in some small way, I may have made an impact.

What advice do you have for young women who are currently pursuing or considering pursuing a career in a STEM field?

I think that there are just so many fascinating things in the math and science world to learn about. I am still learning. There are so many fields that can use help — so many options out there for the curious and creative minds to explore. There are so many directions those paths can take you. Don’t stop learning, don’t hesitate to be curious.