Why women are valued in manufacturing

Hank Hayes • Mar 16, 2020 at 8:00 AM

KINGSPORT -- Women are key to shoring up a glaring weakness in manufacturing, about 200 women were told at the recent 2020 Women in Manufacturing Symposium held at the Meadowview Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 524,000 open jobs in manufacturing.

“That’s a huge burden,” said A.J. Jorgenson, vice president of Strategic Program Engagement at The Manufacturing Institute. “That number will grow to more than 2 million because of Baby Boomer retirements and economic growth. That is a very scary number.”

Manufacturing also has a huge need for diversity because the average manufacturer currently is a “54-year-old white guy,” Jorgenson noted.

With March being Women’s History Month, the symposium was a collaborative effort of the region’s community colleges, chambers of commerce and nonprofit association of manufacturers to celebrate and recognize women’s contributions, value and future in manufacturing. Further, the purpose was to promote the career opportunities women can pursue in the manufacturing industry.

The symposium also was about the job opportunities available to women today, the qualities women possess that make them excel in manufacturing, wages, and the technical skill requirements for today’s manufacturing jobs.

Jorgenson pointed out manufacturing is the backbone of the U.S. economy with a $2 trillion economic impact and employing 13 million people.

“Everybody knows manufacturing is important (but) only one in three parents want their kid to be in manufacturing, they want somebody else to do it,” she said. “They want their kid to go to a four-year school, get a degree and get a safe job.”

The National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce and education partner of the NAM, have unveiled a $14 million “Creators Wanted” campaign, an unprecedented, nationwide effort to reshape America’s perception of manufacturing and confront the industry’s growing skills gap.

By 2025, the impact of “Creators Wanted” aims to reduce the skills gap in the United States by 600,000, expand the number of students enrolling in technical and vocational schools or reskilling programs by 25% and increase the positive perception of the industry among parents to 50% from 27% today.

In addition to women, manufacturers are reaching out to veterans, said Jorgenson.

“If we can increase the amount of women in manufacturing by 10 percent, you close the skills gap by 50 percent,” Jorgenson stressed. “That is how large the gender gap in manufacturing is.”

At the conclusion of the event, the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing, Inc. recognized Carolyn Powers, regulatory and compliance specialist at Scholle IPN in Chilhowie, Virginia, as the 2020 recipient of the Outstanding Woman in Manufacturing Award.

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