Women are critical to addressing the serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled production positions, according to Kelly Springer, CEO of Metal Flow Corp., a Holland-based automotive supplier. Yet, relatively few women choose manufacturing careers. As chair of Inforum’s ManufacturingNext steering committee, Springer is helping to strengthen the talent pipeline of women who thrive in manufacturing professions.
Historically, why haven’t more women in our region looked to manufacturing as a career path?
I think there are some negative stereotypes that have existed in manufacturing, whether that be the opportunity for advancement, cleanliness of the work environment, or not using the most updated technology. All of those things are stereotypes that have existed, and maybe in the past, they have made manufacturing less attractive as a career choice.
Are the stereotypes wrong?
I think that the stereotypes are definitely wrong, but we’re going to have to break through those stereotypes. There’s got to be some PR. I’ve never really heard of manufacturers that really tell their story to share what their work environment is like. For our organization, we have a very clean work environment. We created opportunities and career paths that demonstrate the opportunity for advancement of our team members. And, when we look at the dollars that get invested in new technologies, automation, robotics, sensors, cameras, and all the latest and greatest from a true technology perspective, it really does combat those stereotypes very effectively.
How can ManufacturingNext help women lead and succeed in manufacturing?
In a way, it’s self-serving for manufacturing when you look at the opportunities and the number of manufacturing jobs that are going to be needed. We need to fill those gaps. Women play a critical long-term role for the business of manufacturing to meet those skills gaps. For all the reasons we talked about, there’s sometimes relatively few who choose those from a career perspective. Sharing the success stories and providing a camaraderie that ManufacturingNext provides by getting a group together really does go a long way to break down those stereotypes and demonstrate where a career path in manufacturing can actually go.
In 2019, what types of careers and opportunities are available for women in manufacturing?
It’s across the board. We have opportunities in our quality team — obviously quality and safety are critical components of what we do. We have opportunities for skilled trades tool makers on the floor working in our production environment. Shipping and receiving. Then, we have more traditional roles in accounting and human resources, our purchase team and procurement team. We really try and look at all the competencies that individuals have and try and apply those. I think it’s true in any organization that’s growing. There’s a whole variety of opportunities.
What gaps in training or education do you most often face these days?
Some of the basic mechanical inclination. High school shop classes and things like that aren’t as readily available. I think the career-line tech centers have done a nice job of really adding that type of trade, but I would say that’s a gap. We’ve chosen to fill that gap by providing that type of training to our team members through a training academy.
As you’re willing to take on the investment of training people through the academy, what are you looking for in somebody who joins that program?
We are looking for someone who has a great attitude and a lot of excitement about learning a new trade and skill. They can join us if they have a great work ethic, have a strong desire to learn, and have some mechanical aptitude, someone who wants to have career advancement. I think when you put all of those together and we can complement all of those softer skills with a hands-on technical skill, the outcome is very positive. It’s a program that will give them not only the basic skills but also training that will allow them to hit the ground running in our culture. And it’ll help us fill some of those gaps. We feel it’s a good opportunity for us, versus just running ads and trying to recruit in the more traditional manner.
What’s the outlook for 2019? Are more women coming to manufacturing?
Given the audience of ManufacturingNext, the attendance, and the topics that have been discussed, I think it’s gaining momentum. From a PR perspective, it will hopefully keep the folks who are in manufacturing today engaged in the manufacturing space. Going forward, it will be a great tool to recruit younger women, middle school and high school ages who have certain skills and aptitudes, to their possibility within manufacturing.
Interview conducted and condensed by Jessica Young.