The manufacturing skills gap: is diversity the solution?

Norval Scott
March 7, 2024
The manufacturing skills gap: is diversity the solution?

As every US manufacturer will tell you, there is a skills gap in the industry today that’s affecting productivity, and it's getting worse as people retire out of the sector. Some four million jobs need to be filled in manufacturing this decade, about half of which require skilled talent.

Young people aren’t entering the industry at the same rate, which means the problem that keeps every manufacturing executive up at night is ‘where am I going to get the manpower to keep my factory’s lights on?’

But within that hypothetical question lies both the real problem facing US manufacturing, as well as the potential solution. Just before International Women's Day, it's appropriate to ask - what if it wasn’t just ‘man’-power?

Diversifying the problem

According to a recent report by the Manufacturers Alliance Foundation, women make up 47% of the nation’s workforce - but when it comes to manufacturing, they only comprise 29%: a level of representation that hasn’t changed since the 1970s.

In its analysis of the report, Bloomberg picks out several lowlights that indicate the state of play:

  • 82% of men said the US manufacturing industry has made significant progress in providing equal opportunities and pay for women - but only 38% of women agreed
  • Asked if “my appearance does not influence how others judge my leadership skills” 52% of men agreed, compared with 27% for women
  • On speaking their mind at meetings, 52% of men felt their views are heard, compared with 42% for women
  • Those interviewed complained about closed networks outside of the workplace, such as golf outings or happy hours

The report says: “While strides have been made in society and in U.S. manufacturing, the sector remains stuck as a predominantly male field. It is critical we attract more women to manufacturing. It’s good for business. It’s good for employees. And a key component to solving the talent crisis.”

Enabling the solution?

It’s unfortunately beyond CloudNC’s remit to solve the problems outlined in the report (and the report itself makes strong recommendations in how to do so, from overcoming structural obstacles such as a lack of parental and family leave, as well as discrimination and bias).

However, it does seem counter-intuitive that in a sector where every actor is crying out about the dearth of skilled labour available to take up work, the female labour market is still comparatively untapped. So - what can we do about it, if anything?

One of the benefits of our CAM Assist solution is that it democratises the process of making components on a CNC machine. Instead of the process requiring 3 years of apprenticeships on manual lathes and other tools before being allowed to step up, now someone using CAM Assist can program a component for manufacture from scratch on the first day of using it (actual results seen during our beta testing).

Now, we’re not claiming that CAM Assist can solve the gender inequalities within US manufacturing - far from it! But, it’s clear that there are established obstacles that prevent women from pursuing a career in this sector in numbers, not least a simple lack of representation across the board everywhere that matters - from the manufacturing C-suite, to the factory floor, to studying STEM subjects. It’s surely reasonable enough for young women to look at the state of play and assume “there aren’t many women there - I’m not sure this is for me.”

Our point of view is that CAM Assist breaks down the barriers that prevent anyone from pursuing a career in manufacturing. It retains knowledge within an organisation, assists with training (by demonstrating possible toolpaths and strategies) and upskills less experienced workers, allowing them to contribute more than they would previously have been able to.

Could it therefore help more women into the industry and into programming CNC machines? Only time will tell - but if we’re to bring more women into manufacturing to solve the manpower problems, we hope so.

Want to find out more? Get in touch and see CAM Assist in action today - we’d love to walk you through what it can do!

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