Worker Shortage Woes? Hire women. Here’s Why and How

Gallup: “Companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce
and expect to be competitive in the global economy.”

If you’re in manufacturing, you know all about the worker shortage and how much it’s costing your company.

Yet solutions still elude many. Wyoming Machine (WMI), however, has been bucking that trend for years—despite their rural/exurban location in a town with just 1,426 people. One reason? They hire women.
While women comprise 47 percent of the workforce, The US Dept. of Labor Women’s Bureau 2014 statistics reports that just 5.2 percent of sheet metal workers are female. At WMI, however, 19 percent of all production employees are women—nearly four times the national average.

Dani Guy (center) with Co-Presidents, Traci and Lori Tapani

How Does WMI Do It?

 According to Traci Tapani, who with her sister Lori, is Co-President of WMI, “We have always been involved in our neighboring communities. We maintain a strong presence. As a result, people—both men and women—in our region are very familiar with Wyoming Machine.” One result is a steady stream of job applications—including women—for employment at WMI.
And, of course, as a company owned and operated by women, the Tapanis have never questioned the role of women in production. In fact, Traci (who holds a degree in Business from the U of M’s Carlson School of Management) took welding classes when she first joined Wyoming Machine—to understand the process and needs of their welders. (Lori, a CPA, is also a graduate of The University of Minnesota.) Lori’s first role at WMI was reviewing jobs and purchasing raw material.
While many sources indicate that a gender-diverse workforce has financial and productivity advantages, Traci and Lori see additional advantages:

Benefits of Women in Production at WMI:

Lori sees a competitive edge: “The more diversity that you can bring to the process of providing solutions, the more creative and connected you can be to your customers. We work with many women in supply-chain and engineering roles and I think they appreciate working with our team.”

Traci says, “I like a workforce that reflects where we do business. In Stacy, Minn., we don’t have a lot of ethnic or racial diversity. But we do have men and women represented in fairly equal numbers in our community. I believe that our workforce should reflect that.”

Traci adds that women in production also influence men’s behavior. “We have less profanity, fewer sexual jokes and references, etc. This contributes positively to our culture and makes this an environment that is welcoming to many different people.”

  Gallup Study

A Gallup Study indicates that men and women also have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights. This enables better problem solving, ultimately leading to superior performance.

Manufacturing: Perception vs. Reality

The case for hiring women is compelling. There are challenges, though. Many women still believe that manufacturing plants are dark, dirty and male-dominated. They also don’t realize the personal and professional growth manufacturing can offer, as well as high pay.

  WMI Debunks Those Perceptions. According to WMI women in production:

Jenna Anderson (grinding) joined WMI one month ago after working at Kwik-Trip. She saw the benefits quickly. “When I thought of manufacturing, I thought of a factory—the same thing every day. It’s not. I’m always learning new and different things. I see this as a long term job—a career—because I like what I’m doing and I like the people here.

Jenna Anderson
Jenna Anderson

 Dani Guy is a one year veteran (hardware and grinding). She worked at McDonald’s for six years. (A future story will focus on employee training.) She says, “You don’t think of women in manufacturing—you think of a shop full of guys—and that’s not actually something I wanted. But my idea was extremely wrong. It’s fun. There are lots of men, and they’re supportive—everybody is. It’s like one big family.” In manufacturing, “You can watch your product come together. There’s a sense of accomplishment.” She adds the opportunities to learn, grow and advance are plentiful.

 Of course it’s not that way in all plants. Jill Clark (shipping) came from another manufacturer. “At my previous job I couldn’t drive a fork lift—they didn’t think women could. When I saw women driving forklifts here, I thought, ‘Boy is she good.’ Now I drive a forklift every day. The first time I tried I was nervous, but Jeff Kleschult [a WMI employee] showed me the ropes. Now it’s like driving a car.”

Jill Clark, “just like driving a car”


The Right Culture—For Everyone

All three women agree that employees are welcoming and supportive at WMI. That’s another reason why women—and men—come and stay. According to Lori Tapani:

The willingness everyone has to assist others adds to our family atmosphere. Happy employees stay with us. They are also more productive which is important for customer satisfaction. Nearly 43 percent of our employees have been with us for 20 or more years. In fact, four of our employees have been with us for 30+ years. That’s one reason so many of our customers have stayed with us for so long. With such an experienced workforce, they can depend on Wyoming Machine for exceptional quality and great turn-around time.

Other means to female recruitment and longevity include offering flexible hours through job sharing, cross-training, creative scheduling and/or compressed work weeks.

Conversely a report by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte cite these reasons (among others) that women leave jobs:

  • Poor working relationships
  • Work-life balance
  • Low income/pay
  • Gender wage gap
  • Lack of promotion opportunities
  • Lack of challenging or interesting assignments

How to Find Women for Manufacturing Jobs

Finding women can be a challenge that requires effort and a plan. Harley-Davidson’s workforce is 25 percent women. According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “Harley works with local and national professional women organizations, attends career fairs and campus events specifically targeted to women, and leverages its Professional Women’s Business and Employee Resource Group to actively recruit other females in their social network.”

The Manufacturing Institute and others recommend introducing girls to careers in manufacturing as early as fourth grade, with plant tours, guest speakers, “manufacturing camps” and more. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) offers financial backing for such endeavors. In addition, increasing parent and teacher awareness of women in manufacturing will help.

Tapani Sisters Lead the Way

Not surprisingly, Lori and Traci have advocated for women in manufacturing well before it was vogue. For many years they’ve worked closely with Pine Technical College to encourage manufacturing careers. They have paid travel expenses for area high school students to attend their plant tours.

Traci has chaired the board of directors for the national Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation which holds manufacturing camps for young girls. Lori has chaired the steering committee for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International Annual Conference where she also advocates for women.

The list goes on. Both speak across the country on manufacturing, the workforce shortage and hiring women. They have also garnered substantial media coverage. (For a complete list, including a New York Times interview with Thomas Friedman, CNBC feature and many more, visit our website news section.)

What About You?

Convinced you should hire more women? Resources abound. Check them out. Or, contact Traci Tapani (651.462.4156). Both she and Lori will be happy to share their expertise with you.

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