Wanted: Women in Manufacturing

January 3, 2018

There’s a skills gap in the manufacturing industry, according to The Manufacturing Institute, and it’ll likely result in an estimated 2 million jobs going unfilled in the next decade. One major — and too-often overlooked — solution to this is to prepare and incentivize women to enter the field.

Women in manufacturing only accounted for 29 percent of the industry workforce as of 2016, despite making up over 47 percent of the total labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Women’s participation in the manufacturing labor force has remained fairly constant since 1970, ranging from 28.6 percent in 1970 to a high of 33.2 percent in 1990 and declining back to 29 percent in 2016. While gender roles have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, it appears those changes have had little impact within the manufacturing industry itself.

This disparity is problematic to begin with, but making it even more so is the fact that the manufacturing industry is already hurting for skilled workers. Yet women aren’t always considered a solution to that gap.

“With manufacturing’s skills gap, you can’t only look at 50 percent of the population to fill it,” Allison Grealis, president of the national trade association Women in Manufacturing, told CNNMoney. “Women have got to be recruited in every role.”

One answer to this conundrum involves a focus on helping women gain the requisite skills, including the computer, problem-solving, technical and math skills needed to fill those openings in production, engineering and research and close the widening labor gap. But the solution may not be this simple.

Manufacturing also has a reputation problem, and manufacturing careers are not as appealing to women as they could be. Companies can take these five steps to attract talented women to manufacturing jobs and improve staff quality overall.

1. Clear the Path

Women in the field and those considering manufacturing as a professional career choice need to see opportunities to develop and move into senior positions, whether on the shop floor or in engineering and management.

Manufacturing is currently seen as an old boys’ club that women are not welcome to join (think of those stagnant Census numbers). Companies need to make it clear women are wanted at all levels of the organization — and show them how to climb the manufacturing career ladder.

Start clearing the path to advancement for female employees with these strategies:

  • Provide professional development opportunities
  • Send employees to leadership seminars
  • Fund advanced degrees

2. Close the Pay Gap

Women currently working in manufacturing often stress that their male colleagues are paid more for the same job. Fortune reported a pay gap of as much as 30 percent within the industry in 2015. To attract and retain women in manufacturing, companies need to ensure that isn’t the case.

One way to make manufacturing more appealing? Offer women signing bonuses and incentives for staying and recruiting other women. Otherwise, your competition may steal your best workers by merely offering them more money.

3. Make Work-Life Balance the Norm — Not the Exception

Younger workers of both genders value time for life outside of work, so manufacturing firms need to shift their expectations to hold onto top performers. Businesses should make it clear that employees are expected to have lives outside of work. A 2013 Cornell University study found that manufacturing employers were less supportive of women with caregiver obligations — addressing that would be appealing.

Flexible schedules are another big draw for employees who are parents or caregivers, as well as for workers who invest time in outside interests, such as running marathons or coaching youth soccer.

4. Establish Apprenticeships

Establishing paid apprenticeships and internships for female high school and college students will give them a feel for what it’s like to work in manufacturing. These opportunities help companies establish relationships with potential new hires.

5. Partner With Area Colleges

Make it clear to regional colleges and universities that your business is serious about bringing on more female employees. Attend career fairs, recruit on campus and advertise above-average pay to get students’ attention.

The short-term solution? Companies need to fill available jobs by attracting employees. The long-term solution? Companies need to invest in their female employees and convey how essential they are to the overall success of the businesses. Appealing to the needs and interests of prospective female employees will help manufacturing firms hire — and keep — the best and brightest workers.

Stay informed with Aprio.

Get industry news and leading insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Stay informed with Aprio. Subscribe now.