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Why a career in manufacturing is a great choice for women


Manufacturing Opportunity

Why a career in manufacturing is a great choice for women

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Manufacturing has made strides when it comes to adding women to its ranks, but there’s still a fairly significant gender gap. Two women in the industry offer their perspective on why building a career in manufacturing was the right move for them, and offer advice to others starting out.

Nearly half of the nation’s workforce is comprised of women, but according to U.S. census data, the percentage of women working in manufacturing has hovered around 30% since 1970, reaching its peak of 33% in 1990. An emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is helping prepare young women for jobs in manufacturing, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Another key piece is getting the message out that manufacturing offers a variety of opportunities from the shop floor to the C-Suite.

Modern manufacturing for a changing workforce

As the Baby Boom generation enters retirement en masse, there’s more opportunity than ever before for young people to build a career in manufacturing. The challenge for recruiters is that younger workers might not have a clear understanding of what exactly a career in manufacturing means. These days, manufacturing has a lot more in common with the tech sector than most might imagine.

“I think there’s a misperception of what manufacturing work is. People may associate it with hard labor or repetitive work, and that’s not quite true anymore.” 

While there are jobs that let workers get their hands dirty, there are also lots of positions that are highly techdriven involving robotics and automation. “There really is a wide range of options to consider,” Allen said. 

Sara Stienmetz, Production Manager – Fabricated Equipment at Vollrath agrees. “The stereotype is that you punch in, do a lot of ‘mindless’ work, and punch out. The reality is that there is so much opportunity for creative thinking in every department.” Discovering efficiencies or proposing innovative processes are just two examples she cites.

Opportunities to match every interest

“The kind of manufacturing career that’s right for you really depends on your skills, interests, and how you envision your life outside of work.” 

“Personally I see a lot of women here excel as welders. It’s precise, careful work that can appeal to people who are detail-oriented,” says Stienmetz.

A predictable schedule and the chance to work voluntary overtime can also be appealing – especially if you’re a parent and need to be home at a certain time for the kids, or just want to make a little extra money on your terms.

Along with a variety of opportunities on the shop floor, the manufacturing industry also needs people in engineering, marketing and analyst roles, management, and executive leadership.

According to Allen, seeing other women move up through the company is inspiring. “Roughly 31% of Vollrath’s overall domestic workforce is women.” When she started her career there weren’t many women on the executive leadership team. “Since I’ve been here our executive leadership has grown to include more women. There’s better representation on our executive leadership team and more women have entered management positions.”

Reaching out to the next generation

Getting the word out to women about the benefits of choosing a career in manufacturing starts by teaching girls that it’s a good option in the first place. 

“Some of that stigma I mentioned earlier can start with parents or teachers pushing college hard. A traditional college education is great, but for some people a program at a technical college, trade school, or apprenticeship might be the better fit. I think it’s important that girls be encouraged to explore a range of options and follow their interests,” says Stienmetz. 

For its part, Vollrath is reaching out to the next generation of women in manufacturing by participating in programs like Junior Achievement, and inviting local high schoolers in for a special internship-style program. The high schoolers rotate through different departments at the company throughout the program and learn firsthand what it’s like to work on the shop floor, in quality assurance, assembly, or other departments.

Women supporting women

Having a strong peer network is important. “About 25% of the women here are working moms,” says Allen. “Knowing you’re working with people who understand what that’s like is really important. One thing I love about my job is being able to have a healthy work-life balance” 

Allen and Stienmetz both recommend that women look into joining professional associations such as the Society of Women Engineers, or Women in Manufacturing. It’s an important way to support one another, and serve as mentors for women entering the field. 

To her fellow women entering manufacturing, Stienmetz offers this advice:

“You’re a pioneer. You may sometimes work with people who aren’t used to seeing a woman on the shop floor or in a management role, but be confident in yourself and your abilities, and everyone else will be too.”

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