Fewer Women in Manufacturing Despite 530K New Jobs
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday released a report indicating that while the manufacturing industry has grown by more than 500,000 jobs in recent years, it remains a male-dominated industry.
Burnsville-based Permac Industries President and CEO Darlene Miller joined Klobuchar at a hearing Wednesday to discuss ways to get more women interested in the field.
Between February 2010 and April 2013, manufacturing employment nationwide grew by 530,000 jobs. However, during that time, women lost 28,000 jobs while men gained 558,000. Women currently make up 27 percent of the manufacturing work force, which is down from a peak in 1990, when women comprised about 32 percent of the industry’s work force.
Early Wednesday morning, Klobuchar held a Joint Economic Committee hearing to discuss the report’s findings and solutions for bringing more women into the industry at a time when manufacturers are continually looking for skilled labor.
According to one of the speakers at the hearing—Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, which supports research and education for U.S. manufacturers—there are 600,000 manufacturing job openings, and women, which make up about half of the American work force, are a huge untapped resource.
Klobuchar echoed McNelly, “Manufacturing is key to moving our economy forward, and we need all of our country’s talent—both men and women—to fill the jobs of tomorrow that our businesses are creating today,” she said. “We need to make sure that women have the skills and resources they need to succeed in these growing manufacturing industries.”
Miller says her precision parts manufacturing company has had difficulty hiring people during the 22 years she’s been there.
“No matter what the position, we’ve always had to search and search,” said Miller. “Us women already in the industry need to go out there and really encourage and mentor young girls, because there are thousands of job openings out there that are going unfilled for months.”
Miller emphasized the importance of women already in the manufacturing industry acting as role models for young girls. Miller herself is involved with a mentorship program called Hope for Tomorrow, which pairs 14- to 16-year-old girls at 13 different Twin Cities high schools with adults throughout the metro area for education and guidance.
The report and testimony from the hearing pointed to solutions in four main categories: increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education for girls beginning in elementary school, equipping women with skills in manufacturing through vocational and community college programs, increasing the ranks of women in leadership roles, and encouraging employers to develop mentoring programs so women in manufacturing have role models to provide guidance.
Klobuchar believes another solution involves changing the negative perception of the industry. “Manufacturing has long been viewed as the three D’s: dark, dirty, and dangerous,” said Klobuchar. “But this isn’t your grandpa’s factory floor anymore. It’s now cleaner, safer, and the skills are higher.”
There is a long-standing stigma that jobs in manufacturing require difficult physical labor and that only men can perform them, according to the report. But advances in technology have changed the way goods are produced, and many jobs now require highly specialized technical skills rather than physical skills.
U.S. manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and by itself would rank as the 10th largest economy in the world, according to the report. But despite the industry’s importance to the economy, employment continues to shrink and the looming retirement of many employees means that the demand for new skilled workers is especially high and growing.
Klobuchar has been working toward increasing a focus on STEM subjects for students at early age by introducing legislation to double the number of STEM schools in America and adding an amendment to the immigration bill in the Senate that would fund STEM education by increasing visa fees.
Klobuchar has also promoted policies that strengthen manufacturing, including incentivizing research and development and simplifying the tax code to give businesses clarity and consistency.