Help Wanted: Women for Manufacturing Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Robin Laurier was delivering food through DoorDash to make ends meet, including to employees at International Steel & Counterweights in Youngstown.

Now she is aiming to work there or at another manufacturing plant in the Mahoning Valley.

Laurier is one of four women who attended the WorkAdvance Boot Camp in July and for the first time, the cohort was entirely female. She started to consider manufacturing when she saw the success of her boyfriend, who attended one of the WorkAdvance boot camps in April and was hired by Ultium Cells.

“I was looking for something a little more stable, secure,” Laurier said. So she had her partner ask his WorkAdvance career coach if he knew of any training, possibly in health care, that was open to her through Eastern Gateway Community College or the National Center for Urban Solutions.

“Mr. [Khari] Wilcox reached out to us and said there was an entry-level manufacturing, all-women boot camp going on. So I jumped at that and was super excited to be a part of that.”

Laurier had not given serious consideration to manufacturing as an entry-level step. But she entered the WorkAdvanced Boot Camp with an open mind.

And so, she asked recruiters from the manufacturers who addressed the group if their companies provide training in welding, a field that she found interests her.

Kristen Wheatley, human resources business partner at International Steel & Counterweights, said the qualities she looks for in new employees are a good work ethic, strong attendance and the willingness to both learn and excel. Her company believes it can train people to do any job. And it wants people who want to grow, Wheatley said.

“We strongly encourage anybody who comes in and accepts a job with us. If the job you are in is not a good fit, come talk to us,” she said, “Because we will say, ‘Here’s where we have openings. Is this anything that you’re interested in?’ I would say our longest lasting and our most qualified employees all started in our entry-level positions and just worked their way up.”

Not Just for the Boys

The Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, the National Center for Urban Solutions and Eastern Gateway have teamed up to create the WorkAdvance Boot Camp training sessions to improve and increase the area workforce.

In the Mahoning Valley, only 23% of those employed in manufacturing are women, which is less than the 27% average across Ohio.

“Manufacturing is a thriving industry in this area. There is so much room to grow in it and the stigma is that it’s just for the boys. I will tell you it is not,” said Krystal Shulz, human resource manager and recruiter with Dinesol Plastics in Youngstown.

To address the gender gap, The Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit workforce development affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, has launched the Women MAKE America campaign.

In March 2022, the institute announced their 35×30 initiative, a focused effort to increase the percentage of women in manufacturing nationally to 35% by 2030.

For the past two years, the WorkAdvance program has aimed to help those with little or no manufacturing experience, including returning citizens, to find meaningful careers in manufacturing. As the program has advanced from all-male to co-ed groups, WorkAdvance is supporting the 35×30 efforts to increase the number of women in that workforce, said Alex Hertger, senior project manager with the manufacturers coalition.

“As a part of our core mission values, we feel very strongly that we want to help our manufacturers increase diversity in their workforce. As a coalition, we have come to realize there is a huge deficiency in women in manufacturing,” Hertger said.

Nuts and Bolts of Boot Camp

The women’s three-week journey through boot camp included an algebraic math brush-up and “Tooling U” training to give them manufacturing basics.

Pam Szmara, who has been teaching the WorkAdvance program since its inception, said students who complete the Tooling U program gain credentials as a certified manufacturing associate.

The program also teaches the Additive Edge program through America Makes. There the women learn about 3D printing and design, before making a pitch for a product.

“We want the students to try to solve an everyday problem,” Szmara said. “First they’ll sketch it. Then we’ll design it in CAD. We’ll 3D print it and then they will market it like a business. We introduce them into marketing skills, a business plan, how they’re going to package it, manufacture it, how they’re going to sell it, how many employees they’re going to have. It’s from start to finish how their product is going to get to the consumer.”

An addition to the women’s cohort came from Kaci Roach, executive director of the HHW Ohio, formerly Hard Hatted Women, who presented details about her program, Women in Sustainable Employment (WISE) Pathways.

Laurier liked much of what she has heard from Roach, she said.

“The preconceived notion is that there are not a lot of women in the manufacturing industry. So to have [Roach] who is super supportive of women, very passionate and to come from a family background in manufacturing, to see her own mother succeed… it was awesome. It made us feel comfortable,” Laurier said.

In turn, Laurier said the four women in the program have become super supportive of each other and are hoping to support the program themselves, possibly as speakers or by recruiting two more women each to get involved through the next WorkAdvance cohort.

Roach also talked about the importance of recognizing and considering both the positives and negatives of each manufacturing job, including work culture.

Szmara encouraged them to research companies where they are considering applying. Some local companies sent representatives to talk to the group and promote why its company is a good fit for women.

Finding the Right Fit

Wheatley, from International Steel & Counterweights, told a personal story about her own family to express to the boot camp group how important it is to find a company, like hers, where management values their people and their families.

Not enough workers share their stories, she pointed out, the good and the bad. If they did, it would benefit those considering a career at that company.

“When you are shopping for companies … look at not just who’s going to take [you] but [where] do guys want to go. You want to be happy somewhere. You want somewhere that is going to work for you, that you’re going to feel valued at and that you like going to everyday,” Wheatley said.

Wheatley and Shulz also talked about how much adding the diversity of women benefits a manufacturer’s workforce.

Shulz, from Dinesol Plastics, said she believes women’s roles as mothers and wives naturally lead toward strong work ethics. The long hours they put into their families is similar to the dedication needed to work long shifts, she said.

She added that having women in leadership roles statistically leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% decrease in turnover and a 75% decrease in call-offs and sick days because women are empathetic and tend to build strong relationships.

 And Shulz noted that women have a strong attention to detail and follow directions well, which makes them ideal in on-the-line manufacturing and quality assurance roles, although women work in most departments throughout the company.

Shulz assured the group that she has seen women rise quickly through the ranks from entry level to management.

Besides workplace culture, the cohort asked both Shulz and Wheatley about wages, benefits, hours, shifts, opportunities for training, proximity to bus stops and other reasons their company may be a good fit. Attendance bonuses have become a part of the compensation at both companies, they learned.

Support in the Job Search

The WorkAdvance Program also helped the women to brush up on their resume writing and interviewing skills. The key is getting them trained, the manufacturers coalition’s Hertger said, and collecting paychecks from their new employer as quickly as possible.

“Some of us have not had an interview in a long time. We just want to be able to feel confident and prepared,” said Laurier, who admits it also has been some time since she composed a resume.

Laurier disagrees with those who contend people don’t want to work. She was discouraged after she filled out numerous online applications only to never hear back, she said. She longs for the time when you filled out a paper application, could make a good impression dropping it off and maybe even got an on-the-spot interview. Laurier believes the WorkAdvance program, which will provide them with a career coach for the next year, is going to get her past the hurdles.

“Here we have a connector, a middleman, a voice to really push and fight for us because this is a cause they believe in,” Laurier said. “This is an awesome opportunity. … They believe in us.”

Pictured at top: Martrice Norman, Robin Laurier, Tiara Woodbridge and Tanay Dozier are the first all women group to participate in the WorkAdvance Boot Camp.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.