Our Network @ Work

A Steady Climb from Burger Joint to CNC Engineer’s Chair


Alex Velez was working his regular graveyard shift at a Checkers restaurant in southwest suburban Chicago when he realized he’d had enough.

The customers were rude. He hated the constant smell of boiling oil. And he was tired of the frantic hustle to fry large orders of french fries for last-minute parties. 

So one night, from a corner of the restaurant during the middle of his shift, he called his high school hockey coach, a manufacturing supervisor, who had once offered to help him land an apprenticeship.

Days later he was handed off to a journeyman patternmaker at Sloan Valve Company with this introduction: “This is Alex. He has no experience. He has no technical skill whatsoever. He doesn’t know anything about what we do. So teach him everything you know.” 

Velez was eager to learn. 

Patternmaking is related to tool-and-die making and mold making, but also often incorporates elements of fine woodworking. An engineer may help to design the pattern, but a patternmaker typically executes the design.