To close manufacturing skills gap, train and hire more women

Representing nearly half of the labor force, women make up just over one quarter of the manufacturing workforce

“Women in manufacturing” is fast becoming a mantra for those seeking a way to close the skills gap. More and more articles, studies and commentaries are showing up in the mainstream media, as companies look for ways to engage and hire skilled workers.

Woman worker
Image courtesy katrinaelsi/flickr.

In a blog on the website of Cerasis, a logistics/transportation firm based in Eagen, MN, Adam Robinson outlined four ways to combat the skills gap ("If There’s a Manufacturing Skills Gap, How Do We Close It? 4 Ways to Combat the Gap"). One way, he wrote, is to hire more women and “eliminate gender-based inequality.” While Robinson said he didn’t want to get into the politics of gender equality, he did note that “women in the manufacturing industry will play a vital role in improving the manufacturing skills gap.”

Robinson also noted that various industries tend to be more female oriented, while others are more male oriented. He wrote that women are heavily involved as package and filling machine operators (56% of all workers in that industry are women). Meanwhile, the “majority of all welders—95%—working in manufacturing are men.”

That’s not a big surprise. Not many women apply for a welding position. Still, it’s not to say that there are no women welders. When freelancing for Welding magazine a number of years ago, I came across a young woman in Cincinnati who was tired of being a waitress working for less than minimum wage plus tips. She happened to see an ad for a nearby technical school looking for people to train as welders for a large global manufacturing firm in the area.

She applied, got in and when I interviewed her, she was doing her apprenticeship at this large company, and loving every minute of it. She found welding to be creative, well paid (journeyman welders can make well over $100,000 annually) and just downright fun! Her only complaint was that all the welding gear she had to wear was made for men, and she was a tiny, 5-foot, 100-lb. woman, so that even the smallest protective welding clothing was difficult to wear.

A 2015 study by Deloitte (“Women in Manufacturing Study: Exploring the Gender Gap”) revealed that women are manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent. “While women represent nearly half (47%) of the total U.S. labor force, they comprise less than a third (27%) of the manufacturing workforce,” said the study. “Across nearly every manufacturing sector in the United States, women are underrepresented.”

What do women want when they look for work? The Deloitte study noted three primary factors:

Flexibility. That is something many job seekers want today, both men and women and particularly millennials. For women, who tend to be the primary caregivers for children and many of whom are single moms, this flexibility becomes an even more important benefit.

Formal and informal mentoring and sponsorships. In an age when even many men are unfamiliar with today’s manufacturing industry, women, in particular, need to be shown what manufacturing is all about and how they navigate a career path.

Visible role models. There are

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