Women represent nearly half of the total U.S. labor force, but less than a quarter of the manufacturing sector, making them an untapped resource to address its shortage of skilled production workers, local manufacturers said.
Manufacturers are struggling to recruit people in skilled trades amid the industry’s resurgence and as waves of older workers retire, with few new workers stepping up to take their place. On average, manufacturing pays higher wages than many other industries.
But the traditional view of manufacturing as a dirty and male-dominated industry, as well as the sector’s lack of recruitment and mentoring programs for women, present potential barriers to attracting, retaining and advancing more women.
“It hasn’t been until recently that science, technology, engineering and math have been pushed toward the younger female generation,” said Nichole Metzger, a manufacturing engineer at Valco Industries in Springfield. “It’s always kind of been that this is a boy’s thing.
“Boys grow up to be machinists and doctors, and girls grow up to be nurses and cheerleaders,” she continued. “Now they have STEM schools and hopefully that will turn around.”
The manufacturing industry needs quality employees, regardless of gender, said Angelia Erbaugh, Dayton Regional Manufacturers Association president, which also represents numerous manufacturers in Clark County, including Valco.
“Adding women to the audience of prospective workers certainly helps in our efforts to grow the workforce pipeline,” she said.
Modern manufacturing requires a great deal of mental ability and far less physical labor, removing one barrier for women to perform well in the industry, Erbaugh said.
However, less than 10 percent of young women listed manufacturing among the top five career fields they felt offered them the most opportunity, according to a survey by Women in Manufacturing, a national trade association headquartered in Independence, Ohio, near Cleveland.
Manufacturing employs more than 12 million Americans and contributes $2.09 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
In 2013, the average U.S. manufacturing worker earned $77,506 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all industries earned $62,546.
While women represent 46.6 percent of the total U.S. labor force, they only comprise 24.8 percent of the durable goods manufacturing workforce, according to the Manufacturing Institute. The proportion of women in leadership roles at manufacturing companies also lags behind other U.S. industries.
But the fault for women’s lack of leadership roles in manufacturing lies with the women, not with the men, Metzger said.
“I don’t think it’s the men’s fault,” she said. “I think it’s been traditionally challenging because women haven’t always been assertive and stood up and said they can do things, but I think that’s changing now.”
The DRMA conducted a survey of its member companies on behalf of Cox Media Group Ohio for this article. The 50 area companies that responded employ a total of 3,078 workers, including 452 women in manufacturing positions and 99 women in leadership positions.
At those companies, women represents 14.7 percent of manufacturing workers, with 3.2 percent in leadership positions, according to the DRMA survey.
While their presence isn’t large, it is growing in the local sector, Erbaugh said. “They are not just behind a desk; you can walk the floor of any given manufacturing organization today and see women in engineering, working with machines, and in leadership positions,” she said.
There are too few women in manufacturing because of the lack of sponsoring and mentoring programs for them within companies, as well as misconceptions about the industry, said Allison Grealis, Women in Manufacturing president.
Launched in 2010, the Ohio-based organization wants to “debunk the myth that manufacturing is dirty, dead-end and dangerous,” and increase the number of women who will consider manufacturing careers “if they better understand what the opportunities are,” Grealis said.
Now is a great time for women to get into manufacturing, Metzger said. She said she ran into very few women at work when she first entered the industry in 2006, but that has changed now because companies are starting to view everyone on an equal playing field.
“Some of the companies that I work with that have a younger engineering group, they look past the fact that you’re a women and they look more at how you can help them and what you know,” Metzger said. “I think that’s a very good sign that it’s no longer, ‘Oh, she’s a woman, she can’t possibly understand.’ ”