Skilling up to shape the future
To generate these new skills and opportunities, women themselves can take action. Based on her own experience in manufacturing, Warren recommends going back to school and gaining certifications. She herself is currently pursuing a degree in manufacturing engineering technology from Murray State University, which she hopes to complete by 2022.
She also suggests asking management to attend supplier workshops showcasing new technologies, joining motivational groups such as Women in Manufacturing for networking, and staying up to date on industry developments by reading and attending conferences. “All of these things combined together would help today’s woman find her place in the growing manufacturing world,” she says.
In addition to encouraging STEM and continuing education, Krishnan says there are organizational changes companies can make to support women’s transition to future jobs and suggests that departments charged with increasing diversity interact with those focused on automation.
Given that women are often primary caregivers and disproportionately take on unpaid work in their households, they may have limited access to reskilling programs depending on the time and location these take place. She recommends offering online training for greater flexibility. Other initiatives include offering telecommuting arrangements to increase women’s mobility, and paying attention to hiring and review practices to raise awareness of job opportunities and fight unconscious biases.
"The important thing to recognize is that if these transitions are navigated well, for women as well as men, it could mean higher paid, better jobs," Krishnan says.
For companies facing a looming skills shortage, Lee sees reskilling and education programs as a critical part of the solution. “When we started the STEP initiative in 2012,” she says, “we figured out that if we closed the gender gap by 10%, we would close the skills gap by 50%.” Lee also points to various formal and informal efforts by manufacturers to reskill their broader workforce, tapping into male and female talent alike and, in the process, equalizing opportunities.
One notable example is Toyota’s Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) apprenticeship program, which partnered with nearly 400 companies in 13 states to offer students a two-year Advanced Manufacturing Technician degree. The students came from various backgrounds, including existing manufacturing workers looking to advance their skills. FAME has garnered such success that Toyota and NAM have recently partnered to transfer its stewardship to The Manufacturing Institute for national expansion. Citing that women make up 10% of the program, Lee points out, “while that is at the high-end of the industry, our goal is to double that within five years.”
HP has also been implementing digital fluency for employees to build skills aligned to the company’s digital strategy and will launch development roadmaps for deeper certifications across all businesses and functions. “Women have an opportunity to continue to grow their skills and shape their own careers — and organizations have an opportunity to harness their improved productivity and creativity to propel themselves into a future of increased automation.” says Keogh. “HP is preparing our female employees to develop and thrive as automation, robotics, and roles shift with the digital transformation.”
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