Senior Manager of Ergonomics; Milwaukee Tool
By Joe Nowlan
Raffi Elchemmas has been interested in tools and how they work for as long as he can remember.
He fondly remembers watching his grandfather work meticulously with his toolbox around the house.
“My grandfather was a United States Navy veteran and someone you'd call 'tough as nails,'” he explained. “He used manual tools on everything that he did.”
But even at a young age, Raffi could see that the physical effort his grandfather was putting forth had its repercussions.
“I watched him tough his way through things. He would always say he was not hurt or tired,” Raffi said. “It was always screwdrivers and hammers, never really any power tools. Now I work for a company that puts a battery into pretty much every tool you can use.”
Raffi is senior manager of Ergonomics for Milwaukee Tool. It is a role that takes on greater importance as tool manufacturers—and those who use those tools on a daily basis—learn more about the injuries that can result from continual use including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, or arthritis.
“Any repetitive motion injuries, any musculoskeletal disorders,” Raffi explained. “Things that have been plaguing this industry for years.”
Raffi grew up in the Detroit area. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in kinesiology.
“I spent time in cadaver labs at 5 o'clock in the morning, putting my hands into cadavers to learn how muscles work,” he explained. “I worked with the school's sports teams. I spent my Christmas Eves in hotel rooms for football bowl games. I spent my Friday nights in hotel rooms around the Big Ten when they'd be playing on the road. It was quite the learning experience.”
He graduated in 2009 at a time when both the United States and the Detroit area in particular were hit hard by the recession.
“I've always thought that Detroit had it 10 times harder than any other city during that time period,” Raffi said. “So I graduated with my degree in kinesiology but knew I wanted to be part of the economic revitalization.”
After graduating he realized that he needed additional business-related education and earned his MBA from DePaul University, with a concentration in Health Sector Management.
As senior manager of ergonomics, Raffi wears a number of hats.
“Part of my goal here is to contribute towards helping to bring in ergonomic attributes to tools from the concept phase to manufacturing,” he explained. “Another part of it is to help educate the industry as a whole. My team and I are charged with uncovering how ergonomics affects users throughout their career, where there are shortcomings and how we find benefit in different tools.”
Raffi lives with his wife, Martha. They were married in 2015.
“Ergonomics affects everyone in the electrical industry,” Raffi explained. “Workers in this field have been exposed to risk for years, and we are at a point where pain and injuries seem like they are a part of the job. You should be able to put in a hard day's work for a fair day's pay and return home without any risk of injuries or pain. My job is to help workers achieve that.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. I have found so much enjoyment and so much success working in this industry. My advice would be to stay committed. Stay committed to making a difference in whatever your field is. The millennial generation, my generation, has this notion to get into an industry and stay there for a couple of years, and then move out of the industry. Go see what, for example, the hotel industry is like. Go see what the tech industry is like.
Stick to something. And be the best at it. If you want to work in an electrical distributor, be the best person at the company. And try to be the best person in the industry. Commit 20 years to it. Commit to be the best that you can be in the industry before you move on.
I've always considered this industry as an important part of what makes this country move forward. We are making tools that are helping to rebuild Detroit, helping to build bridges, roads, buildings, homes, and the nation.
Q. If someone had approached you during your freshman year of college and said that someday you would be working in the electrical industry, what do you think your reaction would have been?
A. I would say that it sounded like a really hard job and a really hard career. That's what I would've said then [laughing]. It is not something that you inherently know about. For example, you play sports when you are a kid. So if someone would tell you that you're going to go work for a sports team, you can picture that. Maybe you cook so if someone said you're going to work in a restaurant, working in something that you knew, you can picture it. But the electrical industry is something that seems very challenging from the outside. So I would've said that it seemed very difficult.
Now having been a part of this industry for a half-dozen years I can tell you that it really is very difficult. But some of the most passionate people that I have ever experienced in my life are in this industry. Some of them are purchasers. Some of them are selling products. But everyone still has the same affection for each other and is driving this industry forward.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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