The big picture: Recruitment and retention of women in manufacturing
March 9, 2022
By Stephanie Holko, NGen
One of the major challenges facing manufacturers in Canada is the ongoing shortage of skilled labour. This shortage is only expected to increase in the coming years and threatens to limit growth of this important sector with an impact to the broader economy. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation that requires rethinking how we encourage and retain talented workers to this sector.
Canadian manufacturers are known for agility and flexibility – partially due to the smaller domestic market, and partly due to the spirit of collaboration and problem-solving that permeates much of the industry here. There is a practicality to the businesses in Canada that allows us to be nimble. With 90,000 small-to-medium-sized businesses in the manufacturing sector, we have a get-it-done mentality.
With the increasing technical complexity of modern manufacturing comes an increasing demand for higher-skilled workers, including those with both traditional trade and computer skills. This means that the manufacturing sector is now in fierce competition with other sectors for top-end talent. It must adapt its practices to broaden its appeal to as many potential hires as possible if it hopes to be competitive.
This is the time to consider doing things differently. Women are underrepresented in the manufacturing workforce. Manufacturing jobs are often stable, relatively high-paying jobs. We will have an increasing shortage in the workforce over the next 10 years. For companies, hiring managers and senior leaders: we must be practical. It takes at least 18 months to get a worker trained – and that’s if the worker is interested in manufacturing. If a person doesn’t know about manufacturing or doesn’t feel like they belong, then they won’t even be considering these roles. The pipeline of potential workers starts earlier than the onset of training. There is a short, medium and long-term push to get folks interested in joining the sector, trained for the work, and into jobs that benefit them and the economy.
For women who are interested: I know firsthand the benefits of working in manufacturing. The jobs are interesting, pay well, use cutting-edge technology, and have the potential for a big impact. I felt pride in my contribution to something larger than myself. The women I’ve worked with over the years are the best and brightest. It’s an honour to work beside them and there is a comradery from a shared experience that we are proud of, inclusive of all genders. That’s why I will always share, like, and promote any initiative that shows a range of individuals in skilled trades, manufacturing roles, and STEM careers. Visit www.careersofthefuture.ca to learn more about the exciting opportunities in manufacturing.
When we look at the pipeline of women working in manufacturing, there are several career stages to consider: women choosing a sector at the beginning of their career, women working in manufacturing throughout their career and women who have left the sector but may want to return. We need to consider how to attract women to manufacturing, how to keep them in the sector and how to entice them to return if they leave the workforce temporarily. Rhonda Barnett, Executive Chair of AVIT Manufacturing, suggested several tactics at Automation Magazine’s Women in Manufacturing Event in March 2021. She suggested creating a people-first EDI strategy that considers the culture around parental leave, mentorship, sponsorship, salary, hiring and promotions.
Focussing on retention
To retain women who already choose the manufacturing sector is just as important as recruiting efforts. We need to see women in senior roles, and we need managers who are checking in with their new hires to make sure they are receiving the training and skills needed to succeed. There should be a clear path to leadership or technical excellence and the support mechanisms around that. Trust is built one action and one kept promise at a time, and this will build credibility within the community for the type of company you have.
Women who are already in manufacturing: there is work to be done. If you see something – a policy, facilities, professional development, anything – that could use a shake-up, don’t be afraid to have your voice heard. It can make a difference for you, but also for all that come after you.
Men who are in manufacturing: challenge some of the norms that exist, even if you don’t think you directly benefit from the changes. I assure you, these changes will benefit you: from a better, more sustainable company, to family policies that you may need someday, to a future for the next generation. It’s going to take all of us.
Intentionality is what will get the job done. We can’t assume the same old practices are going to work with new hires and in this generation. It can be hard to change the ways things have always been done, but it remains critical for the longevity of a company to challenge the status quo. This can be as simple as asking new employees what they need and then delivering on it. Sometimes this means throwing out things that may have seemed previously untouchable but won’t serve you in the long run. It’s important to lay the groundwork now and challenging some of the social customs in your company may be the first step. Many of the ideas shared don’t cost any more money, they just need some attention. What we focus on, grows.
For a deeper dive, head to Manufacturing AUTOMATION Magazine’s virtual event Women in Manufacturing from 2021 at https://www.automationmag.com/virtual-events/women-in-manufacturing/
Stephanie Holko is the director of project development at Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen). She loves connecting emerging technologies with existing manufacturing problems and believes the future of manufacturing is in the adoption of new ways of working. Stephanie is a licensed Professional Engineer in Ontario.
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