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Closing the Labor Force Participation Gap

On August 26, the U.S. recognizes Women’s Equality Day as the 19th Amendment was adopted and officially added to the Constitution (99 years ago). While we’ve come a long way, baby, there is still a long way to go.

There are numerous alarming stats on the skills gap, including an estimated 2.4 million unfilled positions and $2.5 trillion in manufacturing GDP at risk over the next decade according to a study by Deloitte. A recent extensive report from the MAPI Foundation found that with advanced technologies, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), the skills gap and talent recruitment and retention challenges will only be exacerbated. Are you ready to fill new jobs such as “machine learning engineers,” “collaborative robot specialists,” or “data quality analysts” to keep up with the competition? The ongoing skills gap, and the challenges manufacturers face recruiting and retaining the best talent, spotlight the need to think about strategies, policies, and tactics to increase the ranks of women joining the industry.

While STEM jobs seem to get the most attention, the MAPI report found that in addition to STEM, other skills will likely be in demand in the AI age. Manufacturing is currently the fifth most AI-skill intensive industry, and that is expected to grow. The report explains that the AI era will require fusion skills that build upon human and machine talents to create better outcomes than either party working alone. Authors Daugherty and Wilson of Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI identify three fusion skill areas needed for these new roles. Think about:

  1. Training
  2. Explaining
  3. Sustaining
Manufacturing Industry Workers by Sex

Many of these activities go beyond STEM-only expertise and focus on distinctly human judgments, such as interpersonal relationships, creativity, and decision-making. Hopefully, these new roles will open additional cross-functional opportunities within manufacturing to continue cultivating innovation within the sector.

While women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, the Census Bureau shows women’s workforce participation in manufacturing has hovered around the 30% mark for the past 50 years.

However, the leadership tier is seeing change. A study by LinkedIn found a 26% increase in female leadership hires in the manufacturing sector. And it’s projected that 2019 will be the first year that women become the majority of the college-educated people in the labor force. As job needs change, can manufacturing attract more women, including more college-educated women, to help their companies grow, advance, and innovate? Thirty percent labor force participation is low with such a large pool of qualified candidates available to contribute.

As advanced skills and advanced degrees will be needed to meet the digital transformation occurring in manufacturing, companies have an opportunity to find ways to be more attractive to the next generation of female leaders. It’s good for business, families, and equality.