Women, Welding and What 21st Century Manufacturers May Need to Re-Learn – Part 1
Soo…. You’re having trouble finding talent for your production floor? Are you tapping and searching the entire workforce, or only half? Some manufacturers are successfully solving their talent gap problem by recruiting women. Stories of women on the production floor in manufacturing are cropping up and they are fascinating. In October 2014, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel(1) highlighted stories about four women: a machinist at the Harley-Davidson Inc. plant in Menomonee Falls, WI, a machinist and product development specialist for medical equipment at Phillips-Medisize Corp in Hudson, MN, a wire harness line worker at Generac in Whitewater, MN and a welder at Northstar Aerospace in Duluth, MN.
Is a gender gap really a problem?
Research shows, however, that examples like those described by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are far too rare, and that the U.S. needs to greatly boost its ability to attract all workers to manufacturing. While women represent nearly half (47 percent) of the total U.S. workforce, they comprise less than a third (27 percent) of manufacturing workers. Meanwhile, 80 percent of manufacturers report there are negative impacts of a skills gap.
To solve our 21st century manufacturing dilemma, improving recruitment and retention of women may the best investment of scarce recruiting dollars, if, indeed, this half of the workforce has simply been ignored — since about 1945. References to “Rosie the Riveter” from the WWII era are coming into vogue again as journalists and artists try to illustrate how the “fabric” of the American workforce is again evolving. In fact, a Long Beach, CA newspaper, The Signal Tribune, featured a photo gallery of women in manufacturing for their 2015 Mother’s Day edition.
As the results of a study conducted by Deloitte University and the Manufacturing Institute in 2014 show, “one of the [manufacturing] categories forecast to be hardest hit by the talent gap is skilled production workers (machinists, welders, cutters, and solderers). These workers account for 51 percent of manufacturing employment in 2012.”
- Today the skilled production workers category is experiencing the highest demand for skilled workers among all the manufacturing categories in the study.
- To put this in perspective, the number of welders has already fallen from 570,000 in 1988 to fewer than 360,000 in 2012. Today, the average age of a welder in the United States is 55, and he or she is likely to retire within 10 years. Accounting for these retirements and the current talent pipeline, the American Welding Society estimates that, by 2020, there will be a shortage of 290,000 welding professionals. And this is just one segment within skilled production occupations.
These are some statistics. At GLTAAC we’d like to know how it looks in your company. Are less than one third of the employees on your production floor women? And if they are so few, is it a problem? If business is going great, maybe it is not a problem. In case it is an issue for your firm, this blog offers a mix of solutions from our own GLTAAC experiences, and solutions we have heard across our three states: Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Solutions to Fill the Talent Gap
Start with a forecast of your company’s talent gap. The Deloitte study suggests manufacturers “manage the talent pipeline like a supply chain.” In supply chain planning, forecasts help companies plan make the right investments up front, so that fewer crisis and show-stopping emergencies hit their production floor. In other words, use agile and data-driven analytical planning to forecast talent shortages, and make investments to build resilience and flexibility. To create a talent forecast, calculate your company’s requirement for welding, machining and soldering talent, and line it up against numbers for likely retirements and expected lead times required to find, hire and train new talent. If a talent shortage is clear, figure out how many sales dollars are at risk, and that will help you estimate the investments your company can realistically make to minimize and reduce the gap.
Deloitte’s most recent study points to the fact that there is a business case for recruiting women and the shockingly low numbers of women in manufacturing today (< 30%) make it the easy target for recruitment that firms cannot ignore.
If you determine you cannot continue to ignore the “other half” of the workforce, stay tuned for several ideas of ways to invest in attracting and retaining women.
In my next blog post, “Gender Gap Workforce Solutions – Part 2,” I discuss recruiting differently, starting young, and creating a welcoming workplace.
(1) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 19, 2014,accessed 5/8/2015