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Recruiting more women can solve industry's skills shortages

Sandwell | News | Published:

Manufacturing SMEs in England are being urged to do more to change perceptions of the sector and get more females interested in a possible career in industry.

One of the area directors behind the Manufacturing Advisory Service made the rallying call as part of the organisation's Manufacturing Matters week and in response to the Girls' Attitude survey from Girlguiding that suggests 62 per cent of their members think engineering is 'more for men'.

Lorraine Holmes believes we are missing out on a vital and much needed resource that could unlock future skills shortages and help solve the issue of ageing workforces.

She is a keen supporter of changing perceptions at an early age and feels the sector could do more to showcase the technology, opportunities and progression routes a career in manufacturing provides.

"Engineering is not just about the Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus and JCBs of this world, there's a whole host of innovative, world class companies that make up the supply chain, yet very few young girls actually know about them," explained Lorraine, who spent more than 18 years with Henkel Chemical and Ameron Inc.

"The Girlguiding survey provides a snapshot of what members think about industry and it doesn't make great reading. Nearly half feel they don't have enough knowledge of what jobs are available and 30 per cent still feel sexism is a barrier to choosing a career in this sector."

She continued: "Interestingly, three fifths of respondents said that there wasn't enough female role models in manufacturing and this is something we have to put right and put right quickly.

"We know from working with companies on the ground that there are some fantastic women involved in industry, from working on the shopfloor and managing quality, to designing the cars of the future and running successful multi-million pound businesses."

One such example is Millennium Pressed Metal's Anna Stevenson, who used an A-Level feasibility study to start a small 'rapid turnaround' business more than 10 years ago.

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From a small start-up in a 4,000 sq ft rented unit, she has taken the business to nearly £3 million annual turnover, supplying presswork, turned parts and mechanical assemblies for end use by some of the world's biggest global brands in automotive, construction and off highway.

"I still pinch myself how far we've come and what we are achieving on a day-to-day basis…nearly 6 millions parts are made by us every year," explained Anna, who masterminded the recent move into a new 35,000 sq ft facility in Sandwell in the Black Country.

"Not many of my friends went into industry, but my mother also runs an industrial business and, when I was younger, I'd often go into the factory at weekends to see how things worked. It seemed a natural progression to be honest."

She went on to add: "We're now in a position where we have doubled the business since 2009 and employ 31 people, 50 per cent of whom are women. I can honestly say the times I've experienced discrimination have been very rare; as long as you do the job, at the price they want and on time it doesn't matter what sex you are.

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"I'm passionate about manufacturing and would love to see more women involved in the sector."

Lorraine picked up the story: "This is going to be a major focus for us in the next year and we'll be looking to work with SMEs to see how they can play a bigger role in attracting female engineers.

"One idea is to team up with education and organisations, such as Girlguiding, to see if we can arrange a series of factory visits so their members can see different types of manufacturing and talk to female engineers and business leaders about their careers and what is involved."

She concluded: "We need to change perceptions and inspire more women to actively look at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects with view to their future. We can't do it on our own, manufacturers need to play their part too."

Manufacturing Matters week is dedicated to showcasing England's manufacturing SMEs, a sector that accounts for 110,000 businesses and employs 1.1 million people.

The campaign, which has launched a dedicated website (manufacturingmatters. mymas.org), will look to tackle some of the key issues facing firms through a series of events and activities across the country.

These include skills, access to finance, international trade and innovation, not to mention the launch of the latest MAS Barometer on SME performance.

For more information, please visit www.mymas.org or follow on twitter @mas_works/@mfg_matters

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