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Untapped Potential: How Encouraging Women to Pursue Manufacturing Could Save the Industry.

As an intern with North American Signs, Inc. this summer, I’ve spent the past several weeks learning the sign industry inside and out, and what gives our company a competitive edge. Upon doing additional research, I was curious as to why there weren’t more women looking for careers with sign companies. Additionally, why there is such a large difference between the percentage of men and women working in the manufacturing industry?

A Peak At the Industry: Why Aren’t There More Women in Manufacturing?

When discussing the manufacturing industry, it’s important to note its current state. In 2016, females totaled about 47% of the US labor force, yet only 29% of the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing makes up roughly 9% of the overall US workforce and supports more than 12 million workers directly. If we take 29% of that 12 million, there are roughly 3.48 million women working in manufacturing.

These 3.48 million women are not only working out on the manufacturing floor as welders, or engineers, but in the corporate offices of manufacturing companies. Like other major industries, these businesses are in need of skilled professionals working in sales, marketing, and finance. Within the sign industry, there is a need for expert designers, project managers, painters, and installers, among many other positions. There is a common perception that working in manufacturing means working out on the factory floor. While that is an option, manufacturing companies need all sorts of employees to keep things running smoothly.

With such a discrepancy between the manufacturing industry and overall labor force, I wanted to explore how we can work to make this a more inviting industry. Because the amount of women working in manufacturing is disproportionate to the amount of women in the overall work force, this presents a huge opportunity for manufacturing companies to expand their reach, and recruit a whole new demographic.

The Need for Skilled Workers                                              

From now until 2030, 10,000 baby boomers are expected to retire, each day. This dramatically increases the demand for people to enter the labor force. At the moment, some areas of the country, particularly those that rely on manufacturing, cannot hire people fast enough.

As the number of retired baby boomers increases, this demand will only grow. Despite millennials making up almost half the US workforce, the manufacturing industry still heavily relies on work from baby boomers. In fact, The Washington Post states that 27% of manufacturing workers are above the age of 55, meaning nearly 1/3 of the manufacturing industry is expected to retire within the next 10 years.

The Bright Side: Things Are Looking Up

As the need for manufacturing workers grows, it seems fitting that encouraging women to pursue these careers would be beneficial. We’ve seen organizations sponsor Women in STEM programs for the past several years, such as Women in Manufacturing, and these initiatives help girls to foster a passion for such careers from a young age.

These efforts seem to be working already, as 29% of women in 2017 (up 12% from 2015) reported thinking the school system actively/ somewhat encourages female students to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry. Additionally, 70% of women in manufacturing say they would still choose manufacturing if they were to start their career today. According to the Women in Printing Alliance, 82.1% of women in graphics and sign production are highly satisfied with their jobs, and on average stay with their companies 5.8 years or more.

With the inevitable retirement of baby boomers, there is an enormous need for more workers to enter the manufacturing industry. Females make up nearly half of the US labor force, but are an underutilized labor resource for the manufacturing industry. The manufacturing industry offers many career paths for individuals with diverse backgrounds ranging from trades, to graduate degrees and beyond. We can work to change the male-dominated stigma of the industry and empower women to take on more non-traditional roles. This will not only diversify companies, but will become increasingly necessary as more of the older generation retires.

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