Could Women Help Manufacturers Fill the Skills Gap?

Due to the growing skills gap and an aging workforce, U.S. manufacturers will need to fill an estimated 3.5 million jobs in the coming decade. As companies look ahead to address the growing talent shortage, many experts say women could be the key to strengthening the manufacturing workforce.

A 2015 Deloitte study says there is a strong business case for placing women in manufacturing to address the talent shortage and improve financial performance. Deloitte says women are manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent and while they represent nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they comprise less than a third of the manufacturing workforce. Furthermore, while the pool of available and qualified candidates is “significant,” the proportion of women in leadership roles also lags behind other U.S. industries.

“The industry is missing out on a critical talent resource to advance innovation in manufacturing, increase America’s competitiveness in the global manufacturing landscape and close that skills gap,” said Craig Giffi, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP in a press release.

The advent of new technologies and robotics has reduced many of the physical demands of the jobs that historically discouraged women. In addition, many of today’s manufacturing workers tend to be highly educated and command strong salaries. They also work in clean, air-conditioned factories and don’t have to do heavy lifting for long periods of time. Lauren Slowik, founding board member of Lady Tech Guild in New York, told the New York Business Journal that the physical and strength demands of many manufacturing jobs are quickly changing. “If anything, the precision and finesse that software and computer-controlled manufacturing allows means that huge segments of throwing human labor at manufacturing is removed,” Slowik said.

Women who currently work in manufacturing show a high level of satisfaction with the work and compensation. More than two-thirds of respondents said they would stay in manufacturing if they were to start their career today. Current female manufacturing workers said in another study sponsored by Women in Manufacturing that they were motivated by “interesting work” and “high earning potential.” Three-quarters of respondents said the manufacturing industry offers multiple job roles for women, and half said it was a leading industry for job growth.

Experts say the biggest barrier in recruiting women is the negative perception that many have about the sector. Manufacturing is still seen as a male-dominated industry with dirty, sweaty jobs, and 70% of females surveyed in the WiM report said they would not likely consider manufacturing a career path. WiM says manufacturers need to engage in a public campaign to engage young women in the industry and to highlight promising careers and success stories.

A number of new initiatives around the country are also helping educate and inspire women in manufacturing. Lady Tech Guild in New York is a collective of professional women in art, design and entrepreneurship in the 3D industry which supports women in advanced manufacturing. Women in Manufacturing hosts seminars, webinars and educational events to advance women in the industry. The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead initiative also serves to mentor and recognize women in the industry while leading research efforts.

As reported by the , 25-year-old Nichole Williams from Iuka, Miss., serves as an ambassador for her employer Cooper Tire & Rubber, according to the Wall Street Journal. She has a B.S. in chemical engineering and helps the company design and improve the efficiency of different processes at the plant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Williams regularly speaks to students about her work and says there’s a big disconnect between the perception and reality of manufacturing jobs.

“They want to know what I do all day. So we talk about how manufacturing jobs are not the dark, dirty and dangerous jobs of the past. They are really high-tech and innovative. You can make a lot of money and have a good career path,” said Williams.


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