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Incredible Life Lessons From Working in a Factory

  October 21

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working in a factorySo excited to welcome Robin from The Thrifty Peach to my blog today! Enjoy!

Hello, new friends! I’m very excited to be able to share a story of mine today on Budget Blonde, because Cat’s blog was the very first personal finance blog I started reading.

Like Cat, I absolutely love to write and learn new ideas to share with anyone who happens upon my blog.

Because I love to be creative and I went to college for four years, it might surprise you to learn that the best job I’ve ever had was the summer that I worked on an assembly line at a factory in my hometown.

Now, by “best” I don’t mean it was necessarily a fun job (most of the time it wasn’t) but as one of my first real jobs, it taught me so many useful life lessons for the road that lay ahead of me at the tender age of 19.

After my freshman year in college, I landed a job as an insulation layer at an air conditioning factory where my parents had worked for over 30 years. It was a summer program the factory offered to the college-aged children of current employees. My brother and I both got in, and we were able to work during our time off of school over the course of the summer. The pay was $10.00 an hour and as a broke college student, taking this job was like walking into a gold mine.

I was sure to be rich!

Obviously, I now know that I was more than a little misguided in that assumption, and it was actually the non-monetary gains I received from the factory that became the most valuable to me, namely the realization that I did not want to work in a factory for the rest of my life.

The Value of Money

I know I’m taking the risk of sounding crotchety here, but working on an assembly line really did teach me the value of earning a dollar. Working in a factory is tough work. It’s manual labor and you end up dirty and sweaty, especially if you have to wear a bunch of gear. My job was to cut giant pieces of itchy, yellow insulation and spray them with volcanic-hot glue through an industrial-sized glue gun onto giant sheets of metal. It wasn’t a pretty or delicate job. I had to wear goggles and thick rubber gloves that were routinely burned through, and everyday I came home covered in a fine dusting of insulation, which contains finely cut glass shards so small that they can be inhaled. I was itchy and exhausted after every work day, so I did not have much a social life that summer.

How to Work With Others (and pretend to be an adult)

As one of my first “grown up” jobs, working at the factory taught me how to work with others and have a boss. This was valuable information to learn since I was probably one of the youngest workers there. I was surrounded by adults and had to act like one.

Since we were on an assembly line, if I got behind in my job, then everyone else behind me was behind too (and mad!) My first sticky situation came when I had a partner who was supposed to help me with half of our work. He was a grown man while I was the little newbie pip squeak, but after I learned the job, he began to wander off when the boss wasn’t around, leaving me to do all of our work.

I was not pleased.

I was busting my tail but still falling behind in my job due to the lack of help by my partner, and I didn’t want the workers down the line to become unsatisfied with my speed and report me to management. I had to take matters into my own hands and talk to my boss. I didn’t want to sound like I was whining, and I could tell my boss did not want to be there listening to me, but after I told him about my issue, my partner started working again (thought we didn’t speak much afterwards.) It was good practice for speaking to my future bosses about work related problems and dealing with tough coworkers.

The Importance of an Advanced Education

I was always a good student in college, but sometimes I felt like I might not make it. (Like 2 years of required collegiate level French. Turns out a southern accent doesn’t mesh well with the French language.) I realized that I didn’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life, so the experience made me work harder in school.

Although you can leave your factory work at work and you don’t have to worry about getting behind if you are out sick, they can always find someone else to do your job, which means you are replaceable, and I didn’t want to feel like I was replaceable. (In fact, they ended up closing down the factory shortly thereafter and shipping the work down to Mexico, leaving 2,000 employees, including my parents, out of a job.)

I wanted to give my future employers my best so that I would be irreplaceable, and to do that, I knew I would need a college degree. My classes could be challenging at times, but I knew it would pay off in the long run.

Unexpected Family Time

Ironically, working at the factory created some special family time for us as well. Since our parents already worked there, the four of us chose to ride to work together and eat lunch as a family in the factory’s cafeteria. At the time, I never thought I would look back on our time together commuting or eating in the cafeteria as quality family time, but I now look back at that time with fondness.

Now that my father has passed away, I am grateful to have solid memories of both of my parents’ lives at work– the work friends they had and their individual challenges with their jobs– that a lot of children don’t get to experience. I was proud to see what their lives were like outside of our home, and it showed me how hard they had worked for our family over the years.

Recognizing the Need for Career Fulfillment

My parents made a good living at that factory, and I don’t remember wanting for much in my happy childhood. Clearly it served them well, as far as providing a paycheck.

What I don’t think it gave them was fulfillment, even after they had worked their way up the ladder.

I knew they wanted more for me when they urged me to go to college, because they had not chosen to go themselves. After seeing their experience with factory life and then experiencing it myself, I decided that I didn’t want a job that makes me feel complacent and unappreciated. I want to work on my own terms, not someone else’s, and I definitely don’t want to work my tail off to make someone else a profit. I want to work for my own benefit in a job that utilizes my creativity and talents, a job that offers me a chance at fulfillment.

In the end, I made $5,000 that summer, the most money I had ever earned at the time. Do you know how much I had left when I started college again that August? 500 bucks. Yes, I blew all of my hard-earned money, but I did walk away with a new appreciation of learning how to budget your money, which, coincidentally, has led me here. Somehow I think it was all worth it.

Robin chronicles her financial missteps and victories at The Thrifty Peach. When not chasing around her toddler, she likes to poke fun at herself and figures there can be humor in any financial hardship she has overcome. Please stop by and share her journey.

Photo via Flickr

35 responses to “Incredible Life Lessons From Working in a Factory

  1. For many, it is hard to balance the need for a paycheque with having a fulfilling career. It’s good that you have a clear idea of what you want! My first “real” job was when I worked in a pharmacy. I didn’t take it seriously and was fired for it. That hit home and I vowed to always be a top performer going forward and make sure to leave a lasting, positive impression. This attitude has really paid off in my career endeavours.

  2. What a great experience! And how special that your family all worked there together! You make a great point about fulfillment. I’ve learned so very much from my less glamorous jobs, but mostly, to be thankful for the job I have now, which is more or less fulfilling.

  3. What a great story! I briefly worked on the production floor at a newspaper printing plant. My job was to pick up stacks of advertisements and drop them into a sorter. It wasn’t hard work, but it was mind numbing. Like you, it taught me a lot about the value of work and the realities of a low-skill job. I certainly paid closer attention in class the next school year! I could tell that repetitive factory work probably wasn’t going to be my career of choice if I could help it!

  4. That’s a great story and some great memories you shared. It’s always good motivation to go for more when you work at a job that you know you don’t want to be doing the rest of your life. Did you have to wear a mask to avoid inhaling the shards of insulation? I do hope the health standards were up to code.

    1. I actually didn’t have to wear a mask, can you believe it? I remember thinking that anyone who had to do that for years on end would probably have trouble with their lungs in the long run. It was an entry level position though, so I think workers moved up pretty quickly from that job if they were there long.

  5. So true, real jobs teach important lessons to use in or adult life, I learned how much I must to work to earn a salary, importance of money and importance of savings, great post, thanks for share with us!!!

  6. I actually didn’t have to wear a mask, can you believe it? I remember thinking that anyone who had to do that for years on end would probably have trouble with their lungs in the long run. It was an entry level position though, so I think workers moved up pretty quickly from that job if they were there long.

  7. I think you were lucky to have learned these lessons on your first job. They definitely sound like lessons that will stick with you. I’m glad you got more memories with your Dad, I’m sorry for your loss.

  8. Wow, the things you learn about a person! That was a nice story, especially the part about your parents. πŸ™‚ I’ve never worked in a factory. My first job was as a civilian worker at an Air Force Base library. You’d think it would be boring, being a library and all, but whenever the librarian was away, man did we play! I’m still surprised no one ever reported us to her. πŸ™‚

      1. No! I love that smell too! I especially liked when the new books came in and I’d get to be the first to open them. The sound and smell of a new book is intoxicating! But I like the old book smells too. There’s something oddly comforting about it. What I loved was when the library wasn’t busy and I could just grab a book and read it at the front desk. But, Robin, I was 18 and on a military base. When the librarian was away .. c’mon! We’d turn it into a singles bar. And if I wanted to close the library early, I’d sneakily set the clock ahead. Then when we’d announce the library was closing, you’d see people look at their watches funny, kind of tap them, sigh, and leave. Yeah, I was like that. πŸ˜›

  9. Great post Robin.

    Sounds like you took away a lot of valuable life lessons from that job and I salute you for that πŸ™‚ Personally, I would never work in a factory and while I don’t judge those who do, I know myself, I would hate every single moment.

    That being said, I do like the camaraderie that can happen with employees working so close together and I can see how working with others – where each are dependent on the other – can help foster some deep friendships. Although, like the experience with your job partner, they can also poster deep resentment.

    Thanks again for sharing and take care. All the best.


    1. With the exception of my lazy partner, everyone else there was great. They definitely become family to each other. Working in a factory is so different from working in a corporate office. There seems to be a lot of solidarity in a factory.

  10. I had some friends who worked at a factory during our college years and it was hard work. One way I can relate to you, though, is that I learned the most from my job at Pizza Hut. I made minimum wage but I learned so much about money, work, life, etc. It was definitely a good experience.

    1. Making minimum wage is definitely a good crash course in learning how to effectively budget, DC! I didn’t make minimum wage at the factory which is why I felt like I was rich. I had never made so much money. πŸ™‚

  11. I think one of the best things a young adult going on to school can do is the summer before classes start work in a factory/construction/hard labor type of job, it will make you appreciate and work harder towards your end goal.

  12. What a great story, and life lesson. I agree that work experience in different fields can help you figure out what exactly you are looking for.

  13. Oh I love this post! My mom was a lunch lady growing up and although she didn’t work on an assembly line, her job was very much replaceable and her pay was crap. Even though having your mom work at your middle and then high school wasn’t always so fun (like that time I got caught skipping school…twice…), it was awesome to see my mom every day working her tail off. Taught me what real work looks like. πŸ™‚

  14. Working well with others is really important. The friends we have help define us who we are. Thanks for the post! I’ve learned so many things from learning the value money to having advanced education!

  15. “…speaking to my future bosses about work related problems and dealing with tough coworkers.” This is so tough. I’ve been in many work situations where I had to share something negative about a coworker with my superior. It can be really intimidating and the fear of what happens afterward often keeps us from dealing with it. We’d often rather stay in the tough situation than be seen as a snitch.

    1. You aren’t kidding! I stressed about “telling on” my coworker so much that I still remember it vividly to this day. It was the worst feeling, but it made my job better, so I’m glad I did it.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story! I can relate. I just started my first job at a bread factory (assembly line). Unfortunately, it’s only part-time. Standing up for 8 hours packing bread and getting yelled at by supervisers to go faster is not worth it. In the mean time, I’m working here until I can find work at a retail store. So far, this job has really push the value of my college-education. Once again, thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚

  17. I am a bachelor graduate working in a factory and with me, there are working many graduates. Sometimes having an education doesn’t mean you will get a better job, not in Europe at least since the crash of 2008, now with covid it’s even worst. Now I’m just happy I can pay the bills. I went back to study again…maybe I will be able to find something better this time.

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