Women and the Manufacturing Skills Gap

women in manufacturing
As we often note, today’s U.S. manufacturers are facing an impending skills gap as a generation of manufacturing workers prepare themselves to retire.


To get ahead of this daunting projection, manufacturers are going to have to change how they approach talent acquisition, development, and retention. One group of potential manufacturers that is sorely underrepresented in the current manufacturing workforce — and which represents major potential for the next generation of manufacturing workers — is women.

Per Deloitte’s study of women in manufacturing, only 29 percent of manufacturing employees are women, despite the fact that women make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce.

How do we close this gender gap and make a dent in the looming skills gap in the process?

Empower Existing Women Manufacturers

For women to want to work in manufacturing, it helps to know that it is a field where women can succeed and rise to the top. Fortunately, more and more women are being appointed to leadership positions in the manufacturing sector.

To take it a step further, though, women leaders in manufacturing could come together to celebrate their successes and actively encourage other women to join them. That’s why the Manufacturing Institute developed STEP Ahead, a program designed to “recognize the contributions of women to manufacturing, to tell the story of real women who are making a difference every single day, and to shine a light on the untapped opportunities for women in a rewarding field.”

STEP Ahead has created “a network of female ambassadors who work to attract the next generation workforce and to serve as role models to women who are just starting careers in manufacturing.”

 

To learn more about STEP Ahead and how to get involved, visit www.themanufacturinginstute.org/women or download the program’s prospectus.

Engage the Next Generation — Early

To prepare for a career in manufacturing, students need to develop Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills. While emphasizing these fields is a major initiative in education policy, manufacturers can help spark interest in these areas by exposing student to the types of careers STEM studies will make them eligible for.

A prime occasion for this sort of student inspiration is, of course, Manufacturing Day. But there are also smaller-scale events one can host — and ones that are more specifically focused on sparking young women’s interest in manufacturing careers.

STEP Ahead offers a playbook in its ambassador’s kit for an event called “Making It Real: Girls & Manufacturing,” a “high-impact event (or series of smaller events) designed to expose middle and high school girls to dynamic, successful businesswomen and educators who are passionate about their careers and the contributions they make to our world.”

Next Steps for Women Interested in Manufacturing Careers

If you’re a female student interested in a manufacturing career, there are a number of great programs out there to help you start developing the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed. Below are two national ones that likely have a local presence in your community.

National Girls Collaborative Project

The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) is a mentorship program designed to support organizations across the United States that encourage young women to pursue their interests in STEM education — and the careers it leads to. You can use NGCP’s online directory, The Connectory, to find a STEM program in your area that matches your educational level and needs.

Dream It. Do It.

Started in 2005, the Manufacturing Institute’s Dream It. Do It. program works to inspire the next generation of manufacturing workers, helping them find the right educational path to manufacturing careers.
 

Working on a state-by-state basis, Dream It. Do It. has chapters in almost all of the continental United States. To find your state’s program, browse this list.

Start at the Top

To be successful, closing the gender gap must be a priority for senior management at manufacturing companies. In fact, 72 percent of women surveyed believe they are underrepresented in their organization’s leadership team.

Per Deloitte’s analysis, a recruitment program aimed at women workers begins at the top with an affirmation that gender diversity adds value by ensuring that the best talent applies for jobs, introducing new perspectives into the workplace, improving morale and public perception, and reducing costs associated with turnover and litigation.

More Women in Manufacturing Is Crucial

Encouraging more women to rise as manufacturers at all levels — from kindergarten to the corner office — is a major opportunity to address the impending manufacturing skills gap, improve the public perception of manufacturing, and continue to modernize the field in ways that go beyond just technology. These are all issues that today’s manufacturers face and need to address, making efforts to include more women in manufacturing a wise choice.

To learn more about how women are currently represented in the manufacturing sector, the challenges they face, and actions that can be taken, download the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte’s “Women in Manufacturing” report.