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Frontline: Women Will Help Fill the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Realizing that women are an untapped labor pool for manufacturers, several companies are undertaking initiatives to recruit and develop the best female talent.

Q4 2016
According to a Deloitte analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Gallup Survey data, over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled and that the skills gap is expected to result in two million of those jobs going unfilled. The Manufacturing Institute attributes two major contributing factors to this: baby-boomer retirements and economic expansion. “In addition, the younger generations have little awareness of the career opportunities available in modern manufacturing and often their parents, if they have any perception, have one that is very outdated,” comments Jennifer McNelly, Manufacturing Institute executive director.

Women can fill this gap. According to McNelly, women represent nearly 47 percent of the total labor force, but only make up 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce. McNelly stresses that not only do women bring a diversity of thought to the workforce, they also offer a unique perspective as consumers. “They are an untapped talent pool,” she says.

McNelly attributes the lack of women entering the manufacturing workforce to the limited awareness of the diversity of career opportunities in modern manufacturing today. “People don’t realize that modern manufacturing provides challenging, fulfilling, and well-paying careers with opportunity for advancement,” she notes. “In this industry, you aren’t stuck in one position. You are open to endless opportunities, whether you’re interested in design, engineering, or even marketing and business.” Today’s modern manufacturing includes application of technology, robotics, and new innovation.

Manufacturers are now making it a priority to recruit and develop women. Jennifer McNelly, executive director, Manufacturing Institute Three-fourths of the Institute’s respondents in its Women in Manufacturing Study indicate that they believe that women are underrepresented within their organization’s leadership team. It also found that the proportion of women in leadership roles in manufacturing lags behind other U.S. industries. “However, there are more than enough qualified women out there,” McNelly says. “Manufacturers are now making it a priority to recruit and develop women.”

Some Initiatives
Eaton Corp. has introduced three specific initiatives to attract women to manufacturing: its mentoring program, flexible work, and its Eaton Resources Groups (ERGs). “One of several ERGs that Eaton has formed is called WAVE — Women Adding Value at Eaton — which has a strategic focus on the attraction, advancement, and retention of women,” according to Cathy Medeiros, vice president of Global Inclusion & Diversity at Eaton Corp. “WAVE also is focused on providing opportunities for women at Eaton to connect and collaborate and have a support system,” she explains.

Caterpillar Corp. has a global initiative called Women in Leadership, which focuses on changing the representation of women at Caterpillar and in its industry. “To disrupt a traditional mindset of men only in the heavy equipment and power generation businesses, our programs focus on three pillars: sponsorship from the top, pipeline building in the middle, and cultural change from the ground up,” says Kelly Wojda, Caterpillar Diversity & Talent director.

Caterpillar has a significant focus on recruiting and developing the best female talent, using relationships with partners like the Society of Women Engineers, as well as new avenues for reaching female talent directly via social media. “We are also encouraging more explicit role modeling from our female leaders who hold a variety of top STEM-related jobs at Caterpillar,” Wojda says.

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