With manufacturers facing shortages of skilled workers, women are being increasingly recruited to fill the gap. Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers reports that the number of women-owned manufacturing firms has almost doubled in the past decade. Nearly one out of five firms is owned by women, and they employ one-sixth of the nation's manufacturing workforce.
Given that 58% of all bachelor's and master's degrees awarded in 2006 were earned by women, it’s not surprising that women are moving into the ranks of management. Among the trailblazers is Colleen VanderVelde, materials manager for DynaTorque Inc. of Muskegon, MI, a manufacturer of manual gear operators and specialty products for use with automated valves.
A veteran of 22 years at DynaTorque—where she oversees purchasing, production and inventory control, shipping and receiving, and warehouse activities—VanderVelde says the valve manufacturing industry has afforded her a vibrant career. "I need challenges," she relates, "and manufacturing has fulfilled that, giving me exposure and opportunities to grow."
VanderVelde has also been active in the Manufacturers Workshop held annually by the Valve Manufacturers Association, serving the past six years as a member of the committee. (In fact, she won a VMA Service Award for her exemplary efforts in chairing that committee.)
"I enjoy the challenge, variety and interaction that manufacturing provides," she says, "and through VMA I've developed professionally by networking and sharing ideas."
She has likewise earned, through APICS, her CPIM designation by becoming certified in Production and Inventory Management. "APICS’ female membership has grown over the years, compared to when it was primarily men when I joined in 1990," VanderVelde observes, "and when I first attended the VMA Manufacturers Workshop, I was the only woman. But this year’s workshop had a record female attendance."
The recognition VanderVelde has earned did not always come so easily. "There was a time when proving myself as a woman was a real challenge. People were sometimes surprised to see a woman in my position," she recalls.
But as VanderVelde sees it, the industry "has evolved to where acceptance is more prevalent." She counts herself fortunate at DynaTorque to have "always been treated with respect. Though I've spent the majority of my career working more with men than women, I can say that ability and performance are what we've always looked for."
VanderVelde launched her career as an office clerk for a manufacturing company and then advanced to purchasing assistant, assistant buyer and buyer. Next she moved to a second company and took on the combined role of purchasing and inventory control. After a brief—and unsatisfying—foray outside the manufacturing industry, she soon returned and has been with DynaTorque since the mid 1980s.
Though VanderVelde learned the industry from the ground up, she is gratified that manufacturing careers for women are getting more exposure on college campuses today. "I think we'll continue to see more women enter manufacturing," she predicts, "and I would tell women that if you're looking for a challenging and rewarding experience, like to be involved with making things happen—and if you're flexible and willing to work hard—then a manufacturing career may be an avenue to pursue."