Sara Arif grew up in a city that has a plastics mold tool and die shop for about every 3,000 people, so it wasn't too difficult to settle on a career as a mold maker.
Arif started to learn the trade in high school in Windsor, Ontario, mowing lawns in summer to save money to buy her own tools when she was 16. She became an apprentice at Active Burgess Mould & Design in Windsor and got her journeyman's card in 2002 after studies at St. Clair College, also in Windsor. Now she is a program manager at Concours Mold Inc. with responsibility from the design stage to cutting metal to mold testing. Most of her programs have been auto related, both interior and exterior components, but she has also shepherded jobs for other sectors, such as material handling.
Concours is the third largest mold maker in North America with annual sales of about $85 million, according to Plastics News data. Its headquarters is in Lakeshore, Ontario, a municipality within the greater Windsor metropolitan area of some 319,000 residents. More than 100 mold shops operate in Windsor and they are heavily dependent on the auto sector, and so their fortunes have risen and fallen in lockstep with North America's automotive industry.
Windsor's mold shops are very busy now and skilled tradespeople are in high demand. Arif, 33, is revving up her career when most old-time mold makers are making retirement plans. As a woman she might stand out in a crowd of male-dominated toolmakers. But she and others of the millennial generation are changing the look of the industry as they take up the reins of the sector. To get the talent they need, mold shops are opening doors to a wider range of human potential.
Arif said she was surprised by how much plastics have transformed the auto industry. She strives to keep up with emerging trends by learning more about the latest in design and machining software. She advises those pondering a career in plastics to be patient.
“It takes time to learn the trade,” she explained. “It took me 15 years of mistakes to get where I'm at now.”
Over time, she envisions trying her hand at sales, where she would have more direct interaction with customers. As a member of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers, she likely will appreciate the variety of career paths in her trade.
In her personal life, Arif works with metal in a much different fashion. She is a competitive body builder.