What It Really Means to Work in Manufacturing

November 06, 2014

What’s the average day like in a manufacturing career? For Dolores Wilson, training and development manager at the Alcoa office in Barberton, Ohio, “Every day is different.” Her work covers a wide gamut: orienting new employees, training manufacturing staff to prepare for promotions, writing grants, and more. In 31 years, Wilson has become familiar with every aspect of the manufacturing process, from the production line to the high-level oversight she has today.

Manufacturing is a highly male-dominated field, but it offers great opportunities and engaging work for women. We talked to Wilson about just how exciting manufacturing can be.

“I think people have a lot of misconceptions [about manufacturing] because they’ve seen a lot of jobs go overseas, companies closing down, more layoffs on the manufacturing end,” Wilson told us. “They don’t think it’s a secure field to get into. I have been in manufacturing for 31 years, I enjoy it, and we’re always busy.”

She also shared how the field is constantly evolving and becoming more high-tech, with the latest trend in the field being lean manufacturing. “It’s all about reducing costs, lead times, and waste. The more we educate people around that, the more manufacturing will survive.”

Manufacturing work involves a great deal of creativity and collaboration. Careers in the field draw on design skills, teamwork, and the ability to connect people across cultures and communities, especially in a global company like Alcoa.

It’s true, Wilson says, that women may find they have to work harder to prove themselves than their male peers do. According to her, the key is to find a supportive workplace like Alcoa, where there is a strong focus on recruiting and valuing female staff.

“We need to give young women the confidence they need to succeed in STEM,” Wilson said. “We need a strategic shift in our culture. That requires completely changing young people’s perceptions about the value of manufacturing and the career opportunities in the industry.” And it’s in our country’s best interest to do so: “Manufacturing is still an important economic driver and it can help us turn this recession around. Wash away the negative media images of manufacturing, alter the perception that manufacturing is dead in the United States, and reconnect the youth with making things, on their terms.”

As for how to do that, Wilson recommends engaging parents. That’s why AAUW and Alcoa are working together to bring our Tech Savvy program for girls and their parents and other caring adults to Wilson’s town of Barberton.

“Be a doer,” Wilson says to girls and women looking to get into the field of manufacturing. “Learn all you can.” Once you do that, this exciting, high-tech field will open its doors to you.


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Photo courtesy of Penn State College of Engineering, Flickr

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