In manufacturing’s efforts to close the skills gap, there is one large segment of the workforce that is being largely ignored. While nearly 50% of the workforce is women, a much smaller percentage of them are involved in manufacturing jobs. Even fewer are involved in manufacturing management positions.

Why the lack of women in manufacturing? Is it possible they are the solution to closing the skills gap? If so, how do we go about encouraging more women into the industry? How did we get here and what should we be doing next?

The Modern History of Women in Manufacturing

Not too long ago we brought up the point that in World War II, women, in large part, took over manufacturing jobs in this country as the nation’s men went to war. “Rosie the Riveter” became the face of women in manufacturing. It was not only seen as necessary but as patriotic. Following the war, women mostly returned home as the baby boom began.

In the fifties, most households were single income with the husband serving as the breadwinner. That began to change in the 60’s as women re-entered the workforce, largely in secretarial or administrative assistant positions. Since then, either to demonstrate their independence or out of financial necessity, the percentage of women in the workplace continues to grow. Women began holding increasingly important and diverse roles in companies. Today, the so called “glass ceiling” has been largely removed. Women, however, still don’t seem to find manufacturing attractive.

Why Don’t Women Find Manufacturing Attractive?

Manufacturing was once seen as a dirty job. There was often heavy lifting and language on shop floors was often salty. It was seen as no place for women. Today, most shop floors are full of high tech equipment and machinery. They are mostly well kept and the workforce is getting more diverse. While we know this, these changes are largely unknown in the workforce at large, particularly the female workforce. How can we encourage women into filling needed skilled positions like welding and engineering?

Attracting Women to Metal Fabrication

To attract women in manufacturing and metal fabrication, we need to repaint the image of our industry. We need to talk about the role technology plays and demonstrate the satisfaction in creating something tangible. We should promote the precision involved in much of today’s manufacturing positions. We should also increase our efforts to attract women at job fairs and when giving talks at schools. College and trade schools should be urged to attract women into non-traditional courses like engineering and welding. Manufacturers could encourage their own female workers to take further training or take advantage of educational opportunities. Women can be every bit as good with their hands as men, and they generally have more patience. These are terrific attributes to have in positions like welding. We must be more conscious that women in manufacturing are perhaps the answer to the skills gap.