Melissa Berkland, 33
Automation Product Manager
Van Meter Inc.
Shortly after graduating in 2009 with a liberal arts degree, Melissa landed a merchandising position with R/B Sales—a manufacturer rep. “It was more of a sales/marketing type role, so I thought I would fit in well,” Melissa recalled, noting that the travel and flexible schedule proved a good match to her lifestyle at the time. After three years with R/B she left due to health issues. “In 2013, when I was ready to return to work, I realized that electrical was exactly where I needed to be,” Melissa said. “Van Meter had been one of my customers when I was with R/B, so I knew a lot about the company—and I knew it was where I wanted to work.”
Melissa was hired as a product specialist on Van Meter’s automation team. “It wasn’t something I was qualified for—I had no background in industrial automation and knew very little about Rockwell Automation, but I knew I had to take a jump at it,” said Melissa. “They took a risk hiring me, but I convinced them that I was hungry enough to teach myself—and that’s what I did.” Melissa was promoted to product manager in 2015 and, in 2018, became certified as Functional Machinery Safety Engineer through TUV Rheinland. There are currently fewer than 400 people in the United States with this certification. “My next goal is to get a Cyber Security Specialist certification from TUV,” Melissa noted.
Melissa, who grew up on a farm, enjoys working with the same “salt of the earth” kinds of people she was raised around. “Growing up I was very much attached to my dad,” she explained. “I enjoyed running farm errands with him and being around his friends—they were constantly joking around but had incredible work ethic. The electricians, maintenance engineers, and engineering staff I work with now are like that: hard-working, full of integrity, and willing to do anything for you—right after they give you a hard time. Getting to work with them has been a lot of fun.”
Melissa also knows that there’s nothing more important than surrounding yourself with people that you want to work with. “That describes our team at Van Meter so well,” she said. “They are so good at what they do and getting to be on that team and learn from them has been a blessing. I can’t imagine having that opportunity anywhere else. Sure…it’s cool to have earned some important certifications along the way, and I’m really proud of that, but I owe so much to the people around me. This industry is just something different.”
When asked what she finds most challenging about her job, Melissa replied: “My customers need to find a balance between keeping their personnel safe and keeping their lines running—meeting quota and demand. It’s challenging because it can be cumbersome to navigate the variety of applicable safety standards and machine safety requirements, so we take a lot of pride in our ability to kind of take those safety standards and translate them into something that our customers can digest and implement.”
Helping customers become comfortable with robotics is another challenge Melissa’s team faces. “In Iowa, before COVID, our unemployment rate was just 2.7%,” she said. “Because we’ve done a lot of prep on the robotics side we can take a serious challenge for our industry—not having enough labor—and offer a solution where the tasks are repetitive and jobs often see high turnover rates.”
What advice would Melissa give to someone new to the industry? “I would tell them: It’s going to be fun! If you’re driven it’s going to be fun. If you’re inquisitive it’s going to be fun,” she said. “Ask questions and work hard, because at the end of the day it’s going to be on your shoulders to learn the meat and bones—but if you have the desire to do it, you’ll find that it’s an amazing place to be. I could be in a plant watching motorcycles being assembled one day and the next morning see ice cream being made. If you have any interest in seeing how things are made this job is going to be a lot of fun for you.”
When she’s not working, Melissa stays busy with her two young boys (ages 4 and 1). “We live on an acreage, so we can be found doing a lot of outside activities,” she said. In addition to tending to their animals—including a horse, cows, cats, and dogs—“We do a lot of water activities, a lot of playing outside. On the weekends it’s ‘family first, phones off’ spending time with the boys and trying to keep them out of the mud,” she laughed.
Each year tED magazine recognizes 30 of the industry’s best and brightest under the age of 35. Please visit tedmag.com/30Under35 for nomination information and updates about the 2021 program. Questions can be sent to tED Editor Misty Byers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tagged with 2020 30 Under 35, 30 under 35, people, Van Meter