Tapping Under-Explored Talent

Women in Manufacturing

Due to the market trends of recent decades, American manufacturing faces a workforce crisis driven by a loss of knowledge as baby boomers transition into retirement. Women are stepping up to help save the day as manufacturing meets gender equality.

The face of fabrication is changing. Going from grubby to almost glamorous, the days of knocking off work covered in grease appear to be long gone for most folks working in fabrication — all thanks to the rapid evolution of manufacturing technology. But despite technology rendering obsolete many functions traditionally performed by humans, the demand for goods by the growing American population and increasing volumes of manufacturing returning to U.S. shores have experts advising that a solid human labour force remains crucial to the industry’s health and wellbeing.

Considering the enormous capacity and capabilities that lie dormant in the under-explored resources of the country’s female workforce, manufacturing leaders and government agree that women hold the key to solving the national manufacturing skills deficit. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, women made up 30 percent of the manufacturing industry’s labour force in 2017. As women represent just under one third of fabrication professionals, there is much room for improvement.

In a groundbreaking report produced by Deloitte in collaboration with the Manufacturing Institute and Apics in 2017, we see the rise in the number of women joining the manufacturing industry referred to as ‘the fourth industrial revolution’, underscoring the gravity of the matter. Currently sitting at just three percent under the average number of women who entered manufacturing during WWII, the industry’s female employment stats are set to soar as gender equality gains traction over the next decade, nearly 100 years after the start of that war.

To boost the country’s economy, bringing more women on board is in the best interests of the American people. At the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) State of Manufacturing Address in Pella, Iowa, on January 22, 2020, Jay Timmons, President and CEO, highlighted several fundamental facts. “Manufacturing will always be the backbone of the American economy,” he said. Despite technological advances in automation, Timmons estimates that over 4.5 million vacancies will become available in the industry in less than a decade.

In an interview with NAM that forms part of its Makers Series, Barbara Humpton, President and CEO of Siemens USA, insists that it is time for more women to join the manufacturing industry’s ranks. “Talent is pretty evenly spread across the human population. Women need to know that all it takes is to step up. Let your voice be heard. Get involved, because there’s a lot of work to be done,” she said. The well-known business leader also points out that it would be unwise to “ignore half of the population if you really want the best talent you can get.”

There are several ways to change how both men and women view the concept of welcoming more females to the fields of manufacturing and engineering. One of these is by creating awareness. According to many leading women in the industry, schools would do well to welcome more female speakers to encourage girls to take up and excel at subjects related to technology or STEM in the same way they do with boys. At the same time, this will also bring the message home to boys that there is ample space in all fields for both women and men.

Creating awareness also brings to light the vast spectrum of work that is available in engineering and throughout manufacturing. The next step is to ensure that students receive sufficient support in navigating the educational system to get them to where they want to go in their manufacturing careers. Bringing gender equality into balance directly affects the American economy’s ability to grow. As diversity stimulates creativity, the manufacturing industry can only benefit from carefully rethinking gender representation.

Of course, rewarding people reaps rich rewards. As a major industry stakeholder, The Manufacturing Institute plays an invaluable role in building and supporting the next generation of women in manufacturing. Its STEP Ahead Women’s Initiative promotes the work of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and production through education. It provides women with valuable recognition and fabricators also benefit from its work in the form of training and advice on how to secure longer tenures for women in manufacturing positions as well as welcoming more female job applicants. The project is one of foresight where seasoned women pass on the torch to the next generation by offering their time, knowledge, and resources to promote gender equality in the industry.

The government is also supporting the rise of women in manufacturing. Its initiatives are appropriately spearheaded by the presidential adviser, Ivanka Trump. In September 2019, WZDX News reported around 250,000 manufacturing vacancies at the time. At a television interview on September 10, 2019 at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park, Ms. Trump announced that “the advanced manufacturing program known as FAME is being taken to a national level.”

The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program, or FAME, created by Toyota, was transferred to the National Association of Manufacturers that will see the program expanding from 13 to 20 states. It provides in-service training that culminates in a two-year degree and often also employment. Joining the program can earn trainees around $30,000 over two years. NAM is in full support of FAME’s efforts. “Like no one in government has ever done, [Ivanka Trump] has provided singular leadership and shown an unwavering commitment to modern manufacturing in America,” says Timmons.

The Association’s Creators Wanted campaign is another initiative designed to show Americans exactly how much the face of fabrication has changed, in a bid to inspire more of the country’s youth to pursue careers in manufacturing. To date, far over $10 million is available in sponsorships, with its main goal being to fill the national skills deficit with more than 550,000 recruits. The project has its work cut out for it as oftentimes, parents must be convinced before kids. But with a solid team behind its work, ‘Creators Wanted’ will no doubt play its part in getting more young women to join the country’s fabrication floors.

NAM reminds us that the continued strength of America’s manufacturing industry remains of the essence. To ensure its safety, the Senate has passed a COVID-19 relief bill that will support the industry in keeping essential service providers well supplied with the goods that keep the U.S. going. America is poised to welcome its women to the one industry that isn’t going anywhere – manufacturing.

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August 15, 2020, 7:51 AM EDT