The share of women working in the manufacturing industry is at its highest point since April 2009. Over the last eight years, we have seen positive changes in the industry’s attitude toward recruiting, retaining and advancing women in this field, and greater improvement is possible. Manufacturers understand that society and their workforce benefit from having more females engaged in the innovative, creative and important business of advanced manufacturing.
Women constitute one of manufacturing’s largest pools of untapped talent, totaling about 47 percent of the US labor force in 2016, — but comprise only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce. Women earn more than half of all associates, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, increasingly outperforming men in acquiring advanced skills, yet they’re under-represented in both the manufacturing workforce and the specialized STEM fields most in demand in today’s industrial economy.
Today’s manufacturing industry benefits from high-tech and innovative facilities with advanced technologies. But the fast pace of advancing technologies coupled with an aging workforce are two major contributors to the industry’s scarcity of skilled workers – a shortage that is expected to grow. Manufacturers across the US are finding it more and more difficult to attract and retain workers with the right skills to fill available jobs and keep up to speed on factory floors. We can’t only look to 50 percent of the population to fill it — women must be recruited for every role.
South Carolina is building a robust, high-skilled technology base, returning manufacturing jobs to the state. However, if we do not take the opportunity to reduce this growing skills gap by inspiring and preparing our future workforce, the US will continue to be inundated with unfilled job openings. An estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs are expected to become available in the US by 2025, and industry experts warn that a potential shortfall of two million skilled workers – in areas such as manufacturing engineers, machinists, welders, CNC programmers and robotics technicians – will intensify the problem.
In South Carolina alone, nearly 271,000 family households are headed by women. About 36 percent of those families — or 96,443 family households — have incomes that fall below the poverty level. The median annual pay for a woman who holds a full-time, year-round job is $33,719. Compare that to the average millwright in South Carolina who makes a median salary of $52,440 after completion of a four-year apprenticeship program. Right now, the average income of someone in manufacturing is $84,525 a year including wages and benefits.
Through a focus on training and collaboration with schools, manufacturers are overcoming the skills gap and taking full advantage of the benefits of a diverse workforce. Vital training and development programs that align to the needs of the region, like the SC Future Makers and South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, are demonstrating that partnerships between employers, academia and industry organizations are critical to success.
Women seeking jobs in manufacturing should be actively enhancing their STEM skills. Take control of your future: find role models, mentors, advocates and supportive networks. Take on the tough assignments and learn as much as you can, as early as you can, to build a solid foundation of skills. Most postsecondary institutions offer a variety of educational options, such as apprenticeships for students to expand, improve and build their skill sets.
By working to foster an innovative and inclusive culture that encourages gender-diverse teams at all levels, manufacturers are tackling workplace diversity issues head-on to create positive change. Female role models are more visible at every level of industry, making it easier for girls to see, know and aspire to achievement. At the same time, industry knows that, in order to significantly increase the number of women in advanced manufacturing roles, we need to change the perception of manufacturing careers and grow the numbers of women acquiring skills that manufacturers value and require.
American manufacturing is in the midst of an exciting revolution in new technologies, ideas and opportunities. The industry is progressive and diverse, with high-tech and high-paying enterprises, where both men and women can thrive. The benefits of working in the manufacturing industry paired with the availability of these jobs provide women job seekers with a singular and unprecedented opportunity to excel.