Dodge County Women Part of Manufacturing Growth Story

This article is featured in the October issue of Inspire Magazine.

Manufacturing is a big part of the growth story for Beaver Dam and the greater Dodge County region. With the hope of growth come challenges for manufacturers. As of March 2018, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 2.9%, the lowest in years.  What’s more, manufacturing jobs require technical skills, training or experience, and Dodge County, as well as the entire nation, is experiencing a shortage of skilled trades.   According to the United States Census Bureau, women hold 29% of the manufacturing jobs in the US, but they represent almost half (47.5%) of the working population. Women are an untapped resource to fill manufacturing jobs.

The state of Wisconsin has invested over $200 million from 2014 – 2018 to support workforce development. Locally, this investment helps manufacturers right here in Dodge County.  Moraine Park Technical College (with campuses in Beaver Dam, Fond du Lac and West Bend) can offer manufacturing courses and boot camp programs using grant funding that lowers training costs for companies to send employees and individuals interested in manufacturing careers. In addition to low tuition fees, students can often choose a fast track option for learning a skilled trade, reducing the time to get access to family-supporting jobs in manufacturing.

With all the energy from manufacturers, our technical college system and the state, why aren’t more women interested in manufacturing? One report by the Institute for Women’s Policy said that women and girls drop out or avoid STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education because of a “lack of role models, manufacturing stereotyping and the perception that jobs are less family-friendly and flexible.”

Perception is something that the Manufacturing Business Alliance (MBA) of the greater Dodge County region is trying to change:  The perception that manufacturing jobs are misrepresented as being repetitive, low-skilled and dull, not to mention requiring a lot of physical strength.  Pam Korth, Chairperson of the MBA states, “Most of the time, this is not the case, computers and automation are common parts of manufacturing facilities, which is why we need skilled workers.”  The MBA is a 40+ member group of businesses, organizations, schools and state agencies that work to grow the appreciation of manufacturing careers through promotion and important alliances.  

Retaining a quality workforce is on the mind of every manufacturer in Dodge County. Women and millennials overall are looking at culture and flexibility in their career and employer choices.  More and more manufacturers are trying to innovate around work flexibility, mentorship and career development.  Pam Korth adds, “If you are looking for an opportunity to choose your own career path and enjoy variety in your work, manufacturing is a great career choice.  Being able to come to work knowing that you will make a difference and that you will have opportunities to perform a variety of work that includes critical thinking, communications and teamwork is exciting!  Manufacturers understand that work-life balance is important and opportunities for flexible work schedules and generous paid time off programs are definitely available.”

Todd Hayes is the Economic & Workforce Development Specialist for Moraine Park Technical College; he says “Women are absolutely a good fit for Moraine Park’s boot camps! Our goal is to provide training and experience to get started in a career they might’ve otherwise never considered. Women are often able to bring a different perspective to the job and workplace, in addition to being highly capable employees.” Moraine Park Boot Camps are supported by state grants and are low or no-cost programs in welding and CNC (Computer Numerical Control). The college also offers 15 manufacturing programs in areas ranging from Manufacturing Fundamentals and Fabrication to Electromechanical and Industrial Maintenance.

The advantages to a manufacturing career are many. Manufacturing has among the highest paying jobs for non-college degreed workers. There are also STEM manufacturing careers available that require either technical or college degrees. Further, the employer-provided benefits, including health insurance, retirement and paid time off, is a premium over non-manufacturing jobs. There are real opportunities for career development from process improvement positions to supervision and tech support, and there are real opportunities for women.

Each year during Manufacturing Month in October, the MBA has a series of events involving many area schools and technical education students with tours of area manufacturers and team building activities. All students are encouraged to tour the facilities of participating area manufacturers to see people working and manufacturing products.  These programs help build awareness with students and families. In Dodge County, manufacturing is the largest employment sector with 27% of the area’s population working in the industry. Ultimately, the goal is to expand the skilled labor pool for area manufacturers and female workers are needed which will help grow the manufacturing sector.  As manufacturers grow and prosper, so will the economy of the greater Dodge County region.