Manufacturers Are Targeting Women to Fill Jobs

Companies such as Harley Davidson Motor Co. in Milwaukee, Illinois Tool Works Inc. in Glenview, Ill. and Essve Tech Inc., a manufacturer of corrugated steel pipes in Alpharetta, Ga., are actively recruiting women to fill the shortage caused by a growth spurt in U.S. manufacturing due to lower energy costs, reshoring a more competitive labor market as Baby Boomers continue to retire. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated last spring that 241,000 factory jobs remained unfilled.

Manufacturers are courting more women by promising well-paying positions that are both interesting and challenging, and women who have been educated in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are particularly in demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for nearly half of the U.S. workforce but hold less than a third of the nation’s 12.2 million manufacturing jobs.

“Some companies are good at reinvesting in employees, but it’s about helping them become better employees.”

Companies are trying to dispel long-held beliefs that all factory jobs require heavy lifting or entail overly monotonous work. They are emphasizing that most factories are now utilizing high-tech equipment that enable employees to work more with their minds, and not as much with their backs, as few workers now have to lift more than 35 pounds, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. Such jobs often pay $20 or more per hour, compared to an average $12 hourly wage in the female-dominated travel and hospitality industry, the report said.

That bodes well for the results of a survey conducted by Women in Manufacturing, a trade group comprised of roughly 500 women executives “dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing women in the manufacturing sector.” In October, the trade group, in conjunction with accounting firm Plante Moran, released a survey of 870 women that show promising trends for the sector.

Young women responding to the survey who were just starting their careers ranked compensation as the most important factor they were seeking, followed closely by work that was interesting and challenging. At the same time, more than 80% of women respondents who were already working in the manufacturing sector said their work was interesting and challenging, and half said that compensation was “the most significant benefit.”

Moreover, nearly three-quarters (74%) of the experienced women workers said they believe the sector offers multiple career paths for women and more than half of respondents said the sector is a leading industry for job growth for women. In addition, 64% said they would recommend a career in manufacturing to a young woman.

Still, the survey showed that young women, on average, remain “woefully unaware of the opportunities available to them” in the manufacturing sector. Less than half of young women believe that manufacturing offers the interesting and challenging work they’re seeking and less than 10% placed manufacturing among the top five career fields they feel offer the most opportunity for young women today.

“On the whole, these survey results should be seen as a call to action in a space where there is great opportunity,” WiM director Allison Grealis said in the press release announcing the survey’s results. “When we know what young women are looking for in careers, we are in a better position to demonstrate how manufacturing can help them meet their aspirations. We have long known that women are good for manufacturing; and these survey results go a long way to showing that manufacturing is good for women, too.”

Harley-Davidson is recruiting women through job fairs, professional organizations and schools as part of its effort to hire more women, minorities and young adults, Tonit Calaway, Harley’s vice president of human resources, said in a Dec. 11 Associated Press article.

Teri Blumenthal, a plant manager for Rockwell Automation in Ladysmith, Wis., speaks at high schools in the area about the benefits of working at a factory. “Everybody thinks of it as the place where you get dirty, you have to be very mechanical,” Blumenthal said in the AP article. “But that’s not it. … There’s good money, there’s great growth opportunity, and anybody can do it.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert
Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than two decades of experience writing about corporate, financial and industry-specific issues. She is based in Running Springs, Calif.

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