Skip to main content

Jennifer McNelly: It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Manufacturing

Jennifer Mcnelly The Manufacturing Institute
April 17, 2016

A key demographic could help close the skills gap in manufacturing: women. We need to do a better job of attracting and retaining this untapped resource.


U.S. manufacturers today face a tremendous challenge finding quality talent to stay competitive in the global economy. Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely will need to be filled, and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.

Part of the solution is to attract an untapped but talented demographic of people who are already making significant contributions to the field of manufacturing: women.

Women represent one-fourth (27 percent) of manufacturing employees, even though they make up nearly half (47 percent) of the total U.S. labor force. They are underrepresented in nearly every manufacturing sector in the U.S. In order to attract and retain women into this industry, manufacturers need to demonstrate that modern, 21st century manufacturing is not your grandfather’s manufacturing.

Given the severity of the issue, The Manufacturing Institute, APICS Supply Chain Council and Deloitte worked together to understand why manufacturing isn’t getting its fair share of talented women. We surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing, across all functional roles and levels, to get their gauge of how well companies are doing at attracting, retaining and advancing women.

We found that what’s most important to women are opportunities for challenging and interesting assignments, attractive pay and work-life balance. When asked to rank the most impactful programs their organization offers that help in attracting and retaining women, flexible work practices, formal and informal mentorship programs and improving the visibility of key leaders who serve as role models topped the list.

STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead was created to tackle this issue. STEP Ahead works to promote women in manufacturing who improve our economy, increase our standards of living, and make America strong. STEP Ahead Honorees and Emerging Leaders across the U.S. pledge to attract and retain women into manufacturing by:

  • Advocating for the industry;

  • Mentoring young women;

  • Engaging with employee resource groups to generate ideas and share best practices;

  • Encouraging STEM/manufacturing education and leading as ambassadors for the industry; and

  • Sharing their stories to showcase the incredible opportunities manufacturing has to offer.

Women, men, and manufacturers everywhere need to take a stand and STEP up to help advance and retain women in manufacturing. Manufacturing needs women in order to succeed and prosper. By encouraging women to consider careers in this industry, manufacturers are strengthening their business and one step closer to closing the skills gap.


McNelly-headshotJennifer McNelly is Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute.




All views expressed are those of the author.