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Generation Now Leadership: Finding Passion at Precision Plus

June 15, 2023
“I came here in the hopes of just getting a 40-hour work week, and I ended up being quality manager within five years of starting,” says Maria Valadez.
Name: Maria Valadez

Age: 23

Company: Precision Plus

Education: Two-year degree for Business Management (in progress)

Position: Quality Manager

After graduating from high school early, Maria Valadez wasn’t looking for a manufacturing career, just a full-time job that would fund her nursing career aspirations. But, with thousands of baby boomers retiring every year and an ongoing labor shortage, she quickly learned that there were huge opportunities at Precision Plus, a company that manufactures precision machined products.

She started as a technician in the secondary department, and within a few weeks, she was transitioning to quality assurance technician.

“The quality manager at the time, he actually approached me with the opportunity of learning the quality department. He told me that he saw potential, and he really needed somebody in there to learn all the techniques” because a generation of older workers was ready to retire within two to three years, she says, adding that the quality manager became a mentor.

Although she was still taking nursing classes and didn’t plan to stay in manufacturing, Valadez committed to learning and doing her best. However, soon after her promotion to the quality assurance department, she began to reconsider her future.

“My mindset changed when the opportunity of paid tuition through the company came through. I was told, ‘If you take business management and you have a certain grade… it’s 100% [paid] tuition,’” she says. “I’m very motivated, and I taught myself to always get As. So, I took the opportunity and really enjoyed business management.”

Generation Now stories focus on challenges and opportunities facing industry as multiple generations of leaders take on responsible roles in manufacturing. The first piece ran in the spring of 2022 and won a national award for manufacturing business writing.

Stories include:

After working as a quality technician for about a year and a half, Valadez kept climbing up the ladder. She was promoted to quality assurance lead in September 2020 and worked her way up to quality manager in January 2022.

“Every boss or lead that I would have always saw more potential in me,” she says. “Obviously, sitting on the bench [where entry level personnel finish various components], I didn’t think of a leadership role; I just progressed myself there naturally. But I think it all changed when I saw myself just being really passionate about my work and having the opportunity to really learn more about leadership.”

Valadez, now only six credits away from achieving her business management degree through Gateway Technical College, has found purpose in her work at Precision Plus and referenced how the manufacturer was able to create parts for ventilators during the pandemic. She says working in manufacturing has been an eye opener for her, realizing that the field is not a stereotypical dingy environment that many grow up believing. “It’s not what people make it seem to be.”

Six quality technicians and two quality engineers report to Valadez, who describes herself as a hands-on manager.

She says it was challenging to be such a young leader at first. “I was kind of scared because I didn’t know if it was going to work out,” Valadez says. “You have to know that everybody’s mindset works differently, and you have to find a way to work with them and find a way to have them trust you.”

Valadez received helpful advice from other young managers at Precision Plus, and she was motivated seeing how much they cared for the company, she says.

Her youth has also given Valadez a different perspective. “It’s always good to step back and break down the process and really dig into the hows and whys so that the new generation coming in can understand the whole process,” she says.

But being young is not the only competitive advantage she provides. As a woman, she is dismantling stereotypes and signaling a transformation in the manufacturing space.

“I’m in a position where it’s mainly male orientated. And I, a young female, managing a quality department, I think I really make that shift of the generations,” she says.

Although her career has taken an unexpected route, she has found success with her driven attitude. “Every manager and leader that I worked under has always complimented me: ‘You’re always the go getter. You’re always the problem solver. You’re always thinking above and beyond, out of the box.’”

 To others who may be apprehensive about pursuing a nontraditional career path, Valadez encourages them to take the plunge.

“If there’s a company willing to invest in you, really help you grow as an individual and put you in a leadership role, I would take that opportunity,” she says. “I think people really just need to find what motivates them and really helps them grow.”

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