By Carrie Schroeder
Manufacturing offers high-quality jobs with incredible opportunities for advancement. These jobs provide individuals across a wide range of educational backgrounds and professional interests lucrative and personally rewarding careers.
Through extensive consultation and a nationwide survey, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters produced a summary paper, entitled Untapped Potential: Attracting and Engaging Women in Canadian Manufacturing.
Over half the respondents stated that one of the main reasons there are relatively few women in the manufacturing workplace is that school-aged girls are not encouraged to consider manufacturing as a career option. Moreover, when asked how to attract more women to manufacturing, the top response – by a considerable margin – was to improve efforts to encourage girls to enroll in STEM fields and skilled trades programs.
The broad perception of manufacturing being dirty, dark, dangerous, and dull continues to exist. As manufacturers, how do we challenge these misconceptions and share the reality that exists in our production facilities today? Further, how do we change the minds of the influencers that help guide the decisions of our potential future workforce?
Educate the educators
Carla Allan heads up the Career Internship Program (CIP) at Windsor Park Collegiate in Winnipeg. The CIP is an innovative partnership program where students complete a post-secondary-entrance program of studies, build transferrable soft skills, network with professionals in a variety of fields, and develop focus and confidence for successful post-secondary transitions. The program challenges students to discover and embrace the skill drivers of the 21st century workplace: creativity, problem solving, design, and big picture thinking.
Allan noted one of the challenges is the lack of information about manufacturing available to students in high school. She suggests education is always key.
“If there is a strong push for women in manufacturing, active promotion of this exciting career field could help. There are teachers like me out there who happily bring in guest speakers and would take students on tours.”
As manufacturers, we need to do a better job of equipping our educators with the most up-to-date information on the benefits and opportunities that a career in manufacturing can provide.
What about other influencers?
“Parents and grandparents definitely have the most influence when it comes to career decision-making, yet most do not have the tools and resources to serve as career guides,” says Bev Stuart, Associate Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Initiatives for the Manitoba Institute of Trades & Technology (MITT).
“To better position itself with any target audience, [the manufacturing] industry must reach out to, and get in front of, said audience and tell the story that resonates with them. Parents and grandparents want their children and grandchildren to do well. They want them to be self-sufficient, independent, and to have a better life than they had.”
How do we do this in a meaningful way that will resonate with students, their parents, and grandparents?
Stuart suggests, “the manufacturing community needs to tell the story of what you do and how it’s done. In career development, we do not ask young people what they want to be, rather we ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ For many it will be a values-based answer.”
Lift the curtain
When asked what kind of support manufacturers can provide to post-secondary institutions, Stuart said, “we need to know more about Manitoba manufacturers and the alignment to our programs so when we are recruiting students, we can help make the connections up front. We need to know what they do and how they do it.”
“Tangible support would be short videos or profiles of clusters of companies telling their stories and sharing why students would want to work in the sector.
“Students want to know more about the whole company and its values. Are they innovative? Do they serve their community? Do they have employee sports teams or events? What does the life of a manufacturer look like? Tell the values-based story.”
“The tech sector has done a great job of this,” says Stuart. “Back in the 1900’s it was a seen as a sector for loners and “nerds”, and now it is the cool sector! They are innovative, socially responsible, fun, and customer and team oriented.”
MITT’s forward-thinking approach to making time for parents and counsellors, and providing top quality information sessions just for those influencers is certainly effective. The institution has grown significantly in the last number of years.
Manufacturers are also more forward-thinking too. And this is critical to the success of ongoing programs supporting initiatives to engage students to consider manufacturing as a career path.
Make the connections
Andrea Aiello, Director of Workforce Development, at Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ Manitoba Division, leads programs to connect education to the manufacturing industry. The Lean 101 for Education program has just completed its first full year with some good results.
Lean 101 for Education builds workplace ready skills, provides an understanding of people-centric leadership and teaches through a lens of continuous improvement. Groups of students participate at a manufacturing facility to engage in a fun and challenging simulation introducing the basic tools of Lean. The students, taught by an industry facilitator, have the opportunity to tour a manufacturing facility and learn about career opportunities.
Another exciting program is the dynamic Career Discovery experiential learning simulation displaying a variety of workplace technologies and highlights high demand careers available in the modern world of manufacturing. The students are also encouraged to speak with industry professionals who provide the expert guidance for the simulation.
Aiello suggests that manufacturers leverage opportunities like Take Our Kids to Work Day to provide meaningful engagement for students visiting our workplaces. As an example, one manufacturer provides training, tools and material for the kids to build a birdhouse as an introduction to the woodworking processes used in their plant. Another manufacturer hosts a family picnic on site and provides not only food but also the opportunity for all employees to take their families on a tour to show-off their workplace. The sense of excitement and pride shown at this event is nothing short of spectacular!
The challenge is issued
So, where does this leave us?
We need to tell our story in compelling ways. We need to work together to dispel the image of manufacturing as dirty, dark, dangerous, and dull and show the true picture of our high-value industry.
I challenge all manufacturing companies to put together a 30-second highlight video to share with educators and students. Open your doors and invite your community in to see how cool it is to be part of a diverse team that manufactures things we use every day. Provide information for educators in your local schools to share how your company is adopting evolving technology.
Are there other ways we can highlight the unique job opportunities of the future? How do we engage members of Generation Z (born in 1996 and after) in jobs in manufacturing that do not exist yet?
It is more important than ever to cast the broadest net possible to engage with the influencers of our future workforce to ensure we have the skills needed to continue manufacturing into the future – a very cool, digital future!
Carrie Schroeder is the Director of Operations for Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) in Manitoba, and is one of the driving forces behind CME’s Women in Manufacturing initiative. To learn more, visit womeninmanufacturing.ca
HERstory: Connie Stacey
Growing Greener Innovations might be based in the Prairies, but their mission as a company spans much further.
“One of our goals as an organization, and one of my goals personally, is to work towards the end of energy poverty,” says Founder and President, Connie Stacey.
Over half the world’s population lives with insufficient energy supply, and there are billions of people living by candlelight and burning biomass to generate energy for cooking. This doesn’t just have environmental consequences, but significant social costs as well. Energy poverty contributes to reduced education, poor health, and low economic opportunity.
Although their ambitions are global, the idea for the company was sparked a bit closer to home. Stacey was out for a walk with her sleeping babies when she passed by a diesel generator. Worried that the noisy machine would wake up her children, she started thinking that there had to be a greener, quieter alternative.
Home for Stacey is Edmonton, where she founded Growing Greener Innovations in 2014, after a career in IT. Although she was born in Newfoundland & Labrador, Stacey grew up on the Prairies, in Fort McMurray, and she has lived in Edmonton since moving to pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Alberta.
Fast forward to 2019, and Growing Greener Innovations has created a power system of their own, and their zero emission, zero noise, lithium-ion Grengine™ products have the potential to make a real impact on energy poverty.
The Grengine system’s battery component is unique in three ways: it’s portable, it’s scalable, and it’s plug-and-play. That means it can be used anywhere, by anyone, whether that’s individuals, households, or entire communities.
“To eliminate things like energy poverty, we had to remove the barriers to accessibility. And that included removing technicians from the equation. If you live in Ethiopia for example, in a remote village, your next-door neighbour is not an electrician,” explains Stacey.
Better yet, the Grengine can be recharged using the type of energy that is available to you – whether that’s the grid, or solar, hydro, or kinetic power.
Taking an idea and turning it into a real, viable product is an accomplishment on its own. Like any start-up though, it hasn’t come without its share of challenges.
“The number one challenge is always cash flow. Starting a new business, and starting a manufacturing business in particular, really has some serious cash flow challenges. In manufacturing you have to spend a lot of money to build your product before you have anything at all to sell,” says Stacey.
Finding financing was not easy in the earlier stages, but the company did receive a loan from an Alberta-based not-for-profit lender. Now that they have some traction and market recognition, Growing Greener Innovations is exploring potential interest from venture capital firms and angel investors.
“I’ve been very hesitant about going down that road too quickly,” says Stacey. “We are a social enterprise, and maintaining that direction of the company is really important to me. Profit is not the only thing worth considering. Finding the appropriate partner is really quite crucial in my mind.”
The other challenge that Stacey has faced while building a manufacturing business is some of the stereotypes about what a manufacturer looks like.
“When people say, ‘someone is coming in to meet you and they’re in deep tech and manufacture batteries’, the first person they think of is generally not a woman. There’s just so few women in this field that it can be a bit of a surprise.”
When asked what advice she would give to other women in manufacturing, Stacey admits that although she loves going into work everyday, she initially underestimated just how tough starting a manufacturing business would be.
“Research, research, research, and know what you’re getting into. But take the leap of faith anyway. If you’ve got it, and you really believe in it, you can do it.”