Hire more women: A solution to the skills shortage challenge


Industry Manufacturing CME manufacturing Women

A CME report discusses the under-representation of women in manufacturing and what to do about it

Hiring more women will help close the skills gap in manufacturing.
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Manufacturers continue to identify shortages in key skills areas. This is an ongoing problem and a major headache for companies that are finding it’s affecting their ability to grow.

PLANT’s 2018 Manufacturers’ Outlook survey identifies the greatest skills deficiencies are in general labour, production and engineering. And Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) research shows that problem is affecting 40% of companies, while 60% anticipate shortages within five years and 20% blame shortages for curbing business growth. Within five years, CME says 75% of companies will struggle to find workers in production fields.

But there is an under-utilized demographic that offers a solution that will help alleviate the skills deficit. Hire more women.

That’s the thrust of a CME report (Untapped Potential: Attracting and engaging women in Canadian Manufacturing) that provides a comprehensive examination of women in manufacturing and offers some suggestions on how to improve their representation. The report is based on the efforts of a CME working group, partners and a survey that provides some telling numbers.


Manufacturing accounts for 10.4% of Canada’s GDP, generates sales of more than $600 billion annually and employs 1.7 million Canadians. There are 8.6 million women representing 48% of the Canadian workforce, but they account for just 28% of manufacturing jobs. That’s only 6% of employed women compared to 13% of men; and they make up less than 10% of skilled production workers.

Resource extraction, utilities and transportation/warehousing are also under-represented, as is the tech sector, so critical to business and industry. A study by PwC, the MaRS Discovery district and non-profit MoveTheDial, found women comprise just 13% of the average Canadian tech company’s executive team while 53% of firms do not have any female executives.

Participation to drop

Over the past 30 years there has been no improvement in women’s participation level, which in manufacturing has fluctuated between 27% and 29%, a trend that is similar in the US and the EU. But reading the trends, the CME warns the percentage of women in manufacturing will drop more.

The trends are driven largely by the adoption of advanced technology and specialized machinery as more general labour work shifts to low-wage jurisdictions. Most women are employed in general positions, and less than 25% have STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs.

Women who were surveyed for the report provided some insight into the challenges they face. Many identified a culture that is male-centric and needs to be more welcoming to women, as well as a male bias when promotions are made. Many respondents think women avoid manufacturing because of the current gender balance, 36% quit their last job because of the lack of opportunities for advancement and 20% quit because of sexism and discrimination.

“Attracting more women into manufacturing professions is critical to helping manufacturers grow and to replace the existing and aging workforce,” said CME national chair Rhonda Barnet, president and COO of Steelworks Design Inc.

CME has formed an action plan that aims to address these challenges:

More high-profile role models are needed to inspire young women to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Young women need greater exposure to modern manufacturing facilities for a more accurate perspective on career opportunities. Focus efforts on occupations within manufacturing rather than on the sector itself.

Improve efforts to encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields and skilled trades.

Businesses need to listen to the concerns of women and take steps to make their workplace culture more inclusive.

Find creative ways to improve work-life balance for employees and to accommodate both women and men who have unavoidable family obligations.

The shortage of skilled workers is a pressing issue. The CME report notes that the growth of the working age population will slow to almost zero by 2020. Bringing more women into the workforce is one very obvious solution.

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2017 issue of PLANT Magazine.


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