Manufacturing Expanding, But Not For Women!

December’s manufacturing report shows that both new orders and hiring are growing at the nation’s factories. The latest monthly data from the Institute for Supply Management shows that U.S. manufacturers finished strong in 2013. Their index, which is based upon a survey of purchasing managers, hit 57 in December. This was the seventh straight month reading above 50 (Key: any reading at or above 50 signals that manufacturing is expanding). This is very important for jobs creation and wages because manufacturing jobs tend to pay a lot more than retail or food-service work.

Unfortunately, women have been loosing ground at American manufacturing companies. Since the U.S. job market recovery began in early 2010, the number of men working at all levels of manufacturing, from the shop floor to the executive suites, has risen 7% according to Labor Department statistics. Conversely, over that same period, the number of women in manufacturing has actually shrunk .3%!  Furthermore, females, as a percentage of all workers at U.S. manufacturers, have dropped from 32% in the early 1990’s to only 27% today.

There are many reasons for this decline including:

  1. Several manufacturing industries that women have traditionally been associated with have shrunk dramatically. For example, women in apparel making have dropped from a peak of 740,000 in January 1990 to only 92,500 today.
  2. More men than women have been available to work. At the end of the recession in June of 2009, unemployment for men was 10% versus only 7.6% for women.
  3. There is a misperception that manufacturing is dirty, dark, and dangerous and requires a lot of heavy physical labor. This has encouraged a lot more men than women to enter the field.
  4. Young men are more likely to choose engineering and math courses, gaining the skills most manufacturers desire. For example, a national survey of first-year U.S. college students in 2012 by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California... found that about 18% of men recorded engineering as their potential majors. This contrasted with only 4% of women!

Some companies like Toyota Motor Corporation and Rockwell Automation are setting up recruiting tables at annual conventions of the Society of Women Engineers to encourage talented women to join their companies. Toyota also sponsors “Girls Day Out” programs at their offices and engineering labs in Erlanger, Kentucky to teach grammar school girls about career opportunities.

However, a lot needs to be done to encourage women to enter engineering, scientific and technical fields, which are all craved by manufacturing. Educational programs need to be redesigned to inspire women to acquire the necessary math and science skills needed to succeed as plant managers, directors of engineering, mechanical engineers, design engineers, process engineers, quality engineers, material scientists, chemists, polymer scientists, product developers, electrical engineers, software engineers and IT professionals. These are all professions desired by U.S. manufacturers, many of whom face shortages of skilled workers.

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