A recent Wall Street Journal post declared: “American factories are hiring again. But they aren’t hiring women.”
At first glance, this is a bit of a shocking statement. On the upside, U.S. factories have added more than half a million workers in the past three years. Many of these jobs have been created in the durable-goods sector. Industries like auto-assembly or appliance production are on the up-swing. And while hiring is good sign for American manufacturing, it is important to see the changes in those selected to fill new jobs. Are women being left behind?
The decline of women in manufacturing jobs, according to the post, can be traced to a trend that began years ago. Women saw an increase of jobs in the decades between 1960 and 1980. In the 1990s women had nearly a third of all factory jobs. After that peak, the recession eroded jobs across the board and particularly affected positions held by women. In 2012, women held about 27% of manufacturing jobs.
Automation has been a factor in the decline of numbers of employees. Changing to automated methods has made the jobs less physically demanding, but it has also replaced traditional female roles like quality control and backroom positions. The hot areas of growth in manufacturing – such as fabricated metal products and machinery – tend to have more male candidates with relevant skills filling those positions.
As manufacturing adds new technology, women and men will need the necessary skills to adapt. Automation can be an equalizer in terms of eliminating heavy lifting and labor intensive tasks. Still, much of the burden in hiring rests with the manufacturing companies. In the coming decades it will be their responsibility to hire, retain and promote women within their ranks. And for those who have lost their jobs, it will be a curtail transition time. May the best candidate be hired!