Karen Klusman is a Lab Technician at Reliable Plating Works and Elite Finishing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a position she has held for more than 20 years.

A graduate of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Klusman runs tests on RPW and Elite’s tanks and makes sure the necessary mixtures are in each plating bath.

How did you get your start in the finishing and coating industry?

After I graduated from MATC’s chemical technology program, I found an ad for a chemical lab job in the plating industry and was hired for that job. 

What does your job entail?

Instrumental and wet methods of analysis of plating line tanks, reporting the results to my boss and making chemical adds if necessary. 

Klusman working at her lab at Reliable Plating Works, testing plating tanks.Klusman working at her lab at Reliable Plating Works, testing plating tanks.Can you walk us through a typical day for you?

In the morning, I do basic tests for many of the tanks and review my assistant’s test results. In the afternoon, I do the more complex tests and recommend additions to be made. 

What do you like best about working in the finishing and coating industry?

It’s a friendly industry with many companies sharing ideas and processes for finishing and coating. 

What preconceived notions about the finishing and coating industry have changed since you started working in it?

People tried to convince me that I would end up with cancer quickly because of the chemicals I work with. Due to the safety measures I see taken and take myself, I do not believe that will happen. 

Can you describe a particular project you have been involved in that made you most proud?

My bosses opened a third company with a plating line we had never worked with before (aluminum), and together we learned how to make that work. 

Klusman often helps when RPW customers take a tour of the facility to learn about the company.Klusman often helps when RPW customers take a tour of the facility to learn about the company.Why would you recommend to a friend a career in the finishing and coating industry?

To me, the work I do is interesting. It keeps me engaged and busy throughout the day. I am never bored.

What is the toughest part of your job?

If the company is having a problem with a particular part, it can be difficult to keep up with the pace of running necessary tests. 

How do you describe what you do in your job to family and friends and the importance of it?

I tell them what kinds of instruments I use and what types of chemicals I use for analysis and that it’s critical to maintain the chemical balance of the tanks. 

Are you involved in any industry associations or trade groups?

I have been a member of the NASF for a little over 20 years. 

What was the first job you had in your career?

My first job in the industry was with a company that supplies plating chemicals. 

What type of college, school, or training have you had?

I went to MATC, where I earned an Associate’s degree in chemical technology. 

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Probably where I am right now. 

Klusman and her son, a member of the U.S. Air Force.Klusman and her son, a member of the U.S. Air Force.What is the most humorous day/event you have had in the finishing and coating industry?

Sometimes when cleaning chemicals get onto the saddles that the racks rest on, a loud bag will occur with the electrical connection; this happened when I was walking right next to it, and I jumped and screamed, and witnesses laughed. 

What was your favorite subject in high school or college?

My favorite subject was creative writing, but I didn’t want to pursue a career in it. 

What motivates you to work hard at your job?

I want to see the parts we plate shine and have the durable finish that the customers require. 

Tell us about your outside hobbies and interests.

I love to fish, camp, and travel. I really enjoy concerts and festivals as well. 

What three things do you think of the most each workday?

Mainly I think that what I’m doing needs to be correct for a good, finished product. I hope that what I do is pleasing to my superiors, and I think about the importance of us working as a team. 

Who has been the biggest mentor in your career?

There have been a few contributors to my achievements in my career, but I have learned the most from one of our supplier’s chemical engineers. 

What is your favorite book you have read?

It’s hard to choose from three of them; I have read Catcher in the Rye, Johnny Got His Gun, and Flowers in the Attic multiple times. All three of the books are very moving to me.