Did you know that women represent just 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce?
When you consider that women comprise nearly half of the workforce overall, these numbers are alarming, especially given the fact that the manufacturing industry is facing a talent crisis, which is only going to worsen in the next several years.
Many manufacturers are taking steps to focus on recruiting and retaining this underutilized talent pool. One approach some are taking is to join the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM), the only national trade association dedicated to providing support to women who have chosen a career in the industry.
Manufacturing as a career: Insights from a Gen Z Machinist
Last month I participated in the WiM Summit 2019 where hundreds of people gathered for 3 days of networking and educational activities. Of all the insightful sessions I attended, one called What Does the Future of Work Look Like for Women in Manufacturing made the biggest impact. Interestingly, it wasn’t the two session speakers who made this lasting impression, it was another member of the audience who sat in the row behind me…
Allow me to introduce you to Amanda Leclerc, who volunteered to share her story in a room full of strangers as to why she started a career in manufacturing. Her passion and enthusiasm for the industry was contagious, which prompted me to ask if she would be willing to be interviewed for this blog. She said yes!
Here are the key insights from our discussion:
Q: What is your current role?
A: I’m an Associate Applications Engineer at CNC Software where I’ve worked for over three years in our onsite shop, the Mastercam Manufacturing Lab. My job is to test new features in Mastercam, a CAD/CAM software, to ensure it works to specification to meet the needs of our customers in the manufacturing industry. Previously, I worked as a machinist in a small machine shop.
Q: What inspired you to want to become a machinist?
A: My dad is my inspiration. He has been working in the Industry for about 28 years now as a Swiss machinist. When I was 6 years old, he would bring home parts, and I’d want to know everything about the part, how it was made and what kind of materials were involved. My dad would bring me to work on the weekends and show me how the CNC machines worked, which was fascinating.
Q: What type of training and education prepared you for your career?
A: In 8th grade, I had to decide to attend either a traditional or vocational technical high school. When reviewing the curriculum for the vocational school, I was excited to see Machining as an option. I remember thinking, “I need to go home and tell my dad!”
My participation in the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Pathfinder Regional was critical to preparing me for my career. During year one and two, I learned the basics of running manual machines, then my junior and senior year focused on advanced technology with CNC machines. I loved the program which included biweekly rotations between academic courses and hands-on experience in the machine shop.
Q: What perception issues does the manufacturing industry face?
A: One misconception about manufacturing is that many people still think of the industry as the dirty and dark machine shops that were common way back in the World War II era. Most people don’t understand what manufacturing is today – machine shops are so clean you can basically eat off the floors. It’s a bright, high-tech work environment and not enough people understand that.
Q: What should the manufacturing industry do to combat misconceptions and attract the next gen workforce?
A: Manufacturers should find ways to educate young kids about the industry before they get to high school, and events like Manufacturing Day can help. I’m unique, because I was interested in machining from a young age due to early exposure. With my generation being so tech-savvy, I think more people would get into manufacturing if they understood its reality.
Manufacturers should also partner with communities to promote the benefits of attending vocational high schools. From experience, I know there are misconceptions that such schools are for kids who “aren’t smart” or “don’t care about school.” This could not be further from the truth as vocational schools are a great option for kids who want to learn the skills and get the practical experience needed to get a well-paying job right out of high school. Plus, you aren’t saddled with debt when you start working. These programs are free.
I wouldn’t be where I am without my education and support of my parents. Today I’m on the Advisory Committee for Pathfinder, I attend open houses and speak to students and parents. Some parents are reluctant to have their child attend a vocational school, and I share my story to help them understand that a successful career is possible with a high school education. Even if I change just one parent’s (or kid’s) mind about vocational educational programs, then I’m making a difference.
Based on my experience getting to know Amanda, it’s apparent she is indeed making a difference - thank you for sharing your story with our readers!
For additional ideas on how to create an employee experience that will attract Generation Z to manufacturing, download this e-book based on principles outlined in Kronos CEO Aron Ain’s book, “WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work”