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Women in Manufacturing Part 1: Getting Women Back into the Workforce

Manufacturing is the backbone of the U.S. economy and it has faced major challenges in recent years, including significant labor shortages, the impact of COVID-19, and the dwindling number of women in the workforce. In order to address these issues, the U.S. government has proposed and implemented a variety of new initiatives to bolster the industry and support women in manufacturing.

Women Workers at Risk

While manufacturing has seen a slowly shrinking gender gap in its labor force for generations, the COVID-19 pandemic created such a significant increase in women dropping out of the workforce that the White House administration deemed it a national emergency. As family responsibilities at home piled up due to schools and daycares closing, women turned their attention away from work, educational opportunities, and potential promotions to focus on their families. As Vice President Kamala Harris told women’s advocacy groups and female lawmakers, “In one year, the pandemic has put decades of the progress we’ve collectively made for women workers at risk…. and the longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to bring these millions of women back into the workforce.”(1)

In response to this, President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan (part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 or “ARPA”) included $15 billion towards monthly, refundable, expanded child tax credits aimed at reducing the cost of childcare and increasing labor force participation among mothers of young children.(2) While Congress failed to extend this credit by the end of 2021, U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental House Pulse Survey showed that families receiving the monthly tax credits were hardest hit in the pandemic and applied these funds towards school expenses, child care costs, and debt repayment.(3)

Getting Women Back into the Manufacturing Workforce

As additional incentive for women to return to the manufacturing workforce, the U.S. government heavily promoted opportunities for better education and training. “There needs to be education, training, and support for women who will not be able to return to their jobs, [or] who may need to integrate into different sectors altogether,” said C. Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.(4)

According to the National Association of Manufacturers’ (“NAM”) 2021 Q1 outlook survey, 73.5% of manufacturers said that passage of a major workforce training investment bill would positively impact their company’s business plans and outlook. Respondents welcoming such a bill were asked how their companies would utilize federal dollars if enacted; the most impactful uses included funding on-the-job training programs (74.0%), employer support for growing and expanding apprenticeship programs (59.0%), funding for incumbent worker training programs (57.5%), and expanding community college programs (44.5%).

As a result of this demand, the Biden Build Back Better Plan’s major workforce training investment bill included $50 billion to provide top-quality, debt-free instruction, enabling the potential new workforce to earn industry-recognized qualifications.(5)

A Brighter Future for Women in Manufacturing

Despite challenges the pandemic has created for women in manufacturing, industry outlook remains bright. Respondents to the NAM 2021 Q3 survey expect sales and production to rise by more than 5% over the next year, creating ample opportunity for significant increases in full-time employment. The manufacturing industry has also experienced drastic change due to investments in technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and enhanced reality visualizations.(6) As the industry adapts in response to today’s environment, it is imperative that companies continue to train and support women today.

Significant economic and human capital benefits await companies who succeed in bridging the talent gender gap, and U.S. businesses are rapidly revising their business operations to attract more women. Stay tuned for our next article “Women in Manufacturing Part 2: How Diversity Improves the Bottom Line” which will be published next month.

(1)  COVID-19 is forcing women out of work. Can Biden help them get back on the job? | Business | 
(2) FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Child Tax Credit Awareness Day and Guidance for American Rescue Plan Investments| The White House
(3) Nearly a Third of Parents Spent Child Tax Credit on School Expenses (
(4) COVID-19 is forcing women out of work. Can Biden help them get back on the job? | Business |
(5) Nine Ways the Biden Administration Will Impact Manufacturing | News & Insights | Gray
(6) Manufacturing is integral to Biden's build back better plan | TheHill

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