How to Get a Job as a PLC Programmer

May 27, 2020

“How do I get a job as a PLC programmer?”

I get this question a lot from my readers and students.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. But, the good news is that it is very doable for many motivated electricians and technicians to make the move to PLCs, automation and controls.

And if you’re a mechanical, electrical or chemical engineer, it’s probably going to be even easier.

Ok, so what does it take to get a PLC programmer job?

Here are 4 things that I think you should focus on:

  1. Get involved in automation related equipment and projects at your current job (if there are any)
  2. Making friends/connections with PLC programmers, automation technicians and automation engineers
  3. Get good at solving problems in your current job
  4. Learning PLC-related skills on your own time/dime (if you’re company won’t pay for it)

Ok, there you go! Thanks for reading.


Oh, you want to know more?

Ok, ok. I break down the 4 things you should focus on in detail in the video below.

I’m sure you could add to or change this list in some ways, but I think you’ll find these 4 things really helpful on your way to getting a PLC programming job.

How to Get a Job as a PLC Programmer

Prefer to Read it? Go Ahead...

Hey guys, it's Stephen Gates here with my PLC with another video to help you become a competent PLC programmer, competent automation professional. And this video is very specific to that goal because this is about how to get a job as a PLC programmer without an engineering degree. So I've been looking forward to doing this video because I know this is important to a lot of people in my audience. A lot of my students, and I get this question quite a bit, so I wanted to talk about it in a video and that's been kind of the theme of this month's newsletter as well. We'll have a blog post on it coming up soon, but it's not as straightforward as you might think, although it's, it's not complicated. There's not a straightforward path to it like many people think there is, but there is also a lot of opportunity for pretty much anybody to get into PLC programming.

So that is exciting. So I wanted to talk to you about four things to focus on in order to get a job as a PLC programmer. So we'll jump right into these. We'll cover these. I'll just run through the four here and then we'll break down each one. I've got an example for you to walk through as well.

Number one, get involved with automation projects at your current job. So if you work at a plant or factory, you're going to have some PLCs, automation stuff in your plant. You probably got an HMI somewhere, human machine interface, or maybe they call it a SCADA system that where the operator monitors things and so on. Okay? So I'm not going to dig into each of these too deep yet. Let's just walk through them.

Number two, make friends or connections with other automation professionals. This could be technicians, programmers, automation, engineers, et cetera.

Number three, get good at solving problems at your current job. Being in PLC programming and automation is all about, or one of the major things that you're going to do and you're going to need to have good skills in is troubleshooting, solving problems. Okay? So that's number three.

Number four, learn PLC related skills on your own time slash dime. So that has to do with you taking initiative to learn PLC programming and other related skills on your own time, whether that's after work or on the weekends or taking time off work even. And then paint for yourself. Obviously if your company is going to pay for you to go get training and let you do it while you're on the clock, so to speak, that's even better. But that's not true for a lot of people who really want to get into this because their company wants to keep them in the current role they are in or they just don't see the potential for them to move forward.

So this is for those who need to take things into their own hands and don't have an engineering degree to open some doors. Cause that does open doors for a lot of people, but you don't have to have it to get into PLC programming. So that's what this is about. Okay. So these aren't necessarily in order of importance, but I do think it's helpful to have them in this order just to think through. So we'll break down each item here.

So first of all, get involved with automation related projects at your current job. So I'll just state the obvious that this one doesn't apply to everyone because some people have jobs that don't deal with automation at all. So maybe an electrician that's doing commercial work or even construction work may not be around automation or PLCs. But a lot of people who come to me have some familiarity with PLCs because of where they work.

They're around them, they're in the factory that are in the plant or in the manufacturing facility or the water treatment plant. So on. So first we'll just talk about how to apply it for those, it clearly does apply to and maybe some options for those. It does not apply to. So let's say you're a maintenance technician at a food processing plant and you're actually in a good position to be able to move into an automation role. So if you're doing maintenance at a plant, you're almost undoubtedly working with PLCs or automation or at least around it. So every manufacturing and processing plant in the world has some sort of automation and almost all of those plants will have PLCs involved with that automation. So how do you get involved with automation equipment and projects at church job as a maintenance technician, some thoughts are that next time something breaks on a piece of equipment or a machine in your plant, just be ready to help.

There's probably going to be an automation guy coming in, maybe the engineer or the automation tech who's going to have to program the PLC or whatever. Just use your expertise, your skills, what you bring to the table to assist that person. That's a great way to get involved and be helpful at the same time. So use your expertise on maintaining the electrical and mechanical side of equipment to help him or her out. In other words, be helpful. Keep your ears and eyes open for opportunities to learn from the engineer or automation tech. I'm not saying you should be annoying with questions cause it, it can be annoying when somebody is trying to fix something in a critical situation. To be fielding a bunch of questions, but look for those opportunities where they're working on something and it's not as critical and they're more open to helping you learn and teaching you something about what they're doing.

So don't be annoyed with questions that during a critical breakdown where they're trying to get something back up online quickly, but do ask them what they think the problem may be and if they make reference to PLC programming logic or anything, ask more about that. Just kinda common sense stuff. If you know somebody in your plant that you work with that knows PLC stuff, take advantage of that in a respectful and helpful way. Okay. In fact, really this example can have covers items one through three. You get involved with automation projects. Number two, make connections with automation experts. The guy who's trying to fix it. Number three, get good at solving problems in your current job. Just work on helping solve the problem. That's it. That's a huge part of opening doors for yourself, to learn more and to learn from others who have more skills than you or who have skills that you want to learn.

So real quick, I just want to address the person who may not have the opportunity to work around automation equipment or projects at your current job. That doesn't mean you can't get into this. There's definitely still opportunities, so don't get discouraged. You can, you can do still do items two through four. And then I would also suggest if you don't love your current job then maybe look for a similar job in another field where you can be around more automation equipment. So if you're doing it, electrician work in residential or commercial and you're not even around automation at all. Look for something else maybe in industrial or industrial construction or a factory, that kind of stuff.

Okay. So let's move on to another example. This is actually from a coworker of mine. His name is Nate, and he actually went from electrician to automation technician at the company that I work at that we both work at. So Nate had gone to school, a tech technical school to become an electrician. And in his education he had briefly covered PLCs, but really not in depth. And since starting his job at the company that we work at, he hadn't done anything with PLC. So for the first few years, about five years, he did a lot of wiring and grunt work and he was really good worker, was fast at wiring and could pretty much do anything you asked him to do. But he wasn't happy with doing that forever. He liked the job, but he was having to travel a lot and do grunt work all the time.

And it was just, it was getting boring for him. So one of the things I noticed about Nate was that he didn't shy away from challenges and he usually was eager to troubleshoot a problem and he would ask a lot of good questions about how things work. So that's a really good characteristic to have is to be ready to embrace challenges and jump in and try to solve problems that will get you far in a lot of different areas. So a lot of these skills will help you with finding any job and advancing your career because these are just kind of common sense skills that are learning how to be helpful, learning how to be productive. So he was putting himself in a, in a good position. Nate was, because he was a good worker, he embraced troubleshooting challenges and was helpful. And so because of that I would often choose him to help me on PLC projects.

So that meant that he would do wiring for me and assist with startups and things like that. So he was working on automation projects, which is number one and number two, he was making connections with automation pros, myself in this case and other couple other guys at our company. And he was getting good at solving problems at his current jobs. That's number three. So the last piece of the puzzle for Nate was getting training to show his interest and drive to be a PLC programmer. So soccer about that number four for a while, cause that's obviously what we're about at my PLC. Training.Com is helping people learn PLC programming skills. We can't necessarily help you with the other stuff. Those are things you need to do on your own. So for Nate, the last piece of the puzzle was, was getting this training. So as I said before, he already had a little experience with a PLC course he took back in school.

But that was years ago and really hadn't done anything to maintain that knowledge. So Nate decided to enroll in my PLC training Academy. Which by the way, I'm not suggesting that my PLC training Academy is the only way Nate could have filled in the training gap that he had. He could have done so with someone else's training program too. But the Academy was a good choice for him for various reasons, including he works with me. So he had some level of trust and knew that he could ask questions if he needed to. So Nate was lining up all those blocks. Let's scroll back up here. Getting involved with automation, bladed equipment and projects and his current job by doing wiring and troubleshooting on it, making connections, friends with automation professionals, and number three, getting good at solving problems. At his current job, he was embracing challenges, taking them head on and digging in to see how he could help. And number four, he was now learning PLC skills on his own time, his own dime. He paid for the Academy himself.

And so one more important thing to note, I think is that once he had all these things in place, he still had to make a move toward getting a new position at our company. So he talked to her boss and told him what he was working toward and eventually he did get moved over to the PLC programming, engineering and automation team. I think this goes without saying, but just to be clear, you, you still have to apply for a new job. You still have to ask your boss to move into the automation team or whatever you're trying to do. It's not necessarily gonna fall in your lap if you follow these four items. But these four items basically set you up to have that confidence and some things on your resume and connections to get the PLC programming job. So when he talked to my boss, I was in the background and my boss was talking to me saying, Hey, he's been showing a lot of interest, he's been showing aptitude and I think he could do this.

So I was basically recommending him because he had done kind of those four steps before. So after discussing it with our boss, he was given the chance to start doing PLC programming. And it started out really small, honestly. And he was still doing electrician type work for several months afterward, which was a little frustrating for him because he really wanted to get into it. But slowly he just started getting more and more opportunities to do programming and engineering type work. And so he's been added a couple years now and he's thriving. He loves his work. He's constantly looking for ways to improve our PLC and HMI design templates that the company doesn't have to travel near as much. So he gets more time with his wife and baby and he's making better money. And he obviously has the potential for much more growth in his career and income.

So I've actually written about Nate his story before, which also includes the story of two other electricians who went from electrician to PLC programmer. And I'll include a link to that post below. And actually one of the guys that I talk about in that post has basically become world renowned for his skills and accomplishments. He's just a normal guy. He started out as an electrician, but he's just basically worked his way to the point where he is an automation engineer. Top-Notch is a guy who gets some of the craziest projects and then complete some in a crazy amount of time. So check that post out if you haven't already. And again, let's wrap up these four items here. Get involved with automation at your current job. Make connections with automation professionals. Get good at solving problems at your current job. And number four, learn PLC related skills on your own time and dime.

So like I said before, unfortunately I can't really help you with items one through three, so you're going to have to do the hard work on that. So get started. You can work on those three things starting today. And when you're ready. To take that step towards learning PLC skills, you don't have to have items went through, feet perfected before you can work on number four, but you do need to start working on those ASAP. And then when you're ready, we'd love to help with number four.

myPLCtraining Academy is the way we do that. It's our membership where we have PLC and HMI courses and we're planning and working on developing more. All our training is related to Alan Bradley Rockwell right now, which is the most commonly used PLC in the U S and probably North America. And it's a great place to start. So check out myPLCtraining Academy.  This membership, includes the training. It includes support for me and my team, which is growing soon. And we actually personally answer your questions and make sure you're getting to your goal. And we also offer access to our software licenses for Rockwell. Won't talk more about that here, but that is a really cool feature that you won't see anywhere else. So that's it for now. Thanks for watching. We'll see you in the next video.


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