Women now comprise more than a quarter of the manufacturing workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—28.7 percent of the 14.8 million people employed in industry in the U.S.
In the center of the older section of the Wiegel Tool Works’ recently expanded plant stands The Elza, a 100-ton mechanical press. It is the only press in the stamping company’s facility that is named. The Elza earned its moniker when Elza Wiegel, wife of Martin Wiegel, second-generation president of the family-owned company, put in the final bid at a machine auction to buy the company’s first stamping press. The pivotal purchase began the company’s transformation from a tool-and die house to a stamping manufacturer.
Women have always been an integral part of the family business. Martin’s aunt Rosa worked double shifts as a telephone operator to put her brother, Otto, the company founder, through his tool-and diemaking schooling and apprenticeship in his native country, Germany. Had it not been for her toiling, loyalty, and commitment, it is likely that the company would not exist today. Otto’s wife Kathe founded the company in partnership with him in 1941.
Presently, co-owner Erica Wiegel is Wiegel Tool Works Prototype Manager and Treasurer. In the first capacity, she has propelled the prototype department to be the fastest growing area of the company, bringing Wiegel Tool Works an increase of more than 52 percent in revenue over the last four years. She is a member of the Tooling Manufacturing Association (TMA), the Greater O’Hare Association; and of the Women in Manufacturing Association, and has been recognized with several awards.
In my line of work, I have been in hundreds of factories. I cannot recall one in which women were not part of the workforce—assembling, operating, driving, welding, producing, repairing, designing, engineering, selling, procuring, managing, presiding. In some plants, women outnumbered men significantly.
Women are working in manufacturing so prevalently that I forget that it is still perceived as novel to some. For them the mindset that manufacturing is an all-male bastion still exists.
Women now comprise more than a quarter of the manufacturing workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—28.7 percent of the 14.8 million people employed in manufacturing in the U.S. in 2013. That percentage is not at its peak. In fact, it is down from 30 percent in 2007, and in the 1960s, even more women were employed in manufacturing.
Much dialogue of late has been about the emerging skilled worker shortage. Many company owners and managers worry that when Baby Boomers retire, there will not be a next-generation workforce to succeed them.
Manufacturing Day was launched to build awareness of manufacturing as a viable career. “We feel if we can get kids inside plants, they’ll see it’s clean, it’s safe, it’s high technology,” said FMA President and CEO Ed Youdell, who initiated the concept.
When employers lament the loss of skilled workers, do they consider women to fill those roles as engineers, tool-and-diemakers, and welders? How much effort has been directed to encouraging women to pursue a career in manufacturing? What changes are needed in our classrooms, our factory floors—and especially, in our culture—to stop making manufacturing perceived as a place where women don’t belong or exist?
If you’ve been on the road this summer, no doubt you’ve spotted billboards and bumper stickers intended to raise visibility of motorcycle riders that read simply, “See motorcycles.” To those of you who are seeking to fill your manufacturing staffs, I say this: See women in manufacturing.
It wouldn’t be the first time Rosie has come to the rescue.
Editor’s Note: You can read Wiegel Tool Works' success story in the September/October issue of STAMPING Journal.
PMA hosts the Women in Manufacturing Summit 2014, which will be held September 29-October 1, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg, Ill.
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