Photo: Local high school students particiapte in an team-building exercise duting the recent Girls Employed in Manufacturing workshop at Gadsden State. (Sarrah Peters/Messenger)
By Sarrah Peters/News Editor
Twenty-eight female juniors and seniors from Etowah County schools participated in Girls Employed in Manufacturing (GEM) workshops on Nov. 15 at Gadsden State Community College’s Alabama Technology Network-Bevill Center.
The Alabama Technology Network partnered with the City of Gadsden, Koller-Craft South, Etowah County Schools and Gadsden State Community College to host the GEM workshops, which aim to inspire females to enter the manufacturing workforce.
Women make up about 47 percent of the workers in the United States but only about 27 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce. Women in manufacturing leadership roles is lower than in other industries in the United States.
Manufacturing offers a variety of jobs that includes plant managers, safety managers, quality managers, machinists, production supervisors, maintenance supervisors, human resources positions, accountants, shipping supervisors, mechanical designers and metallurgists. Manufacturing also employs chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers.
After a brief welcome and introductions at the start of the workshop, students immersed themselves in “The Manufacturing Experience,” with workshops that provided the students firsthand experience in what a manufacturing job might entail.
In the “M&M Production Company” workshop, students counted how many M&M’s were a certain color in one bag of the candy and used math equations to predict how many of that color would be in several bags of the candy.
Participants were treated to a robotics demonstration and learned about safety in manufacturing workplaces. The students also participated in a leadership and teambuilding exercise, during which students were broken up into groups of four and given a rubber band with four pieces of strings attached to it. The strings ended in a loop. Using only the loop in the string, the students had to operate the rubber band around red plastic cups and then build a tower. The winners received hats.
The Role Models Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. featured a panel of female guests that work in manufacturing, including Deb Reynolds, an electrical engineering instructor at Gadsden State; Darlene Waters of Choice Fabricators, Inc.; Sharon Ingle of Alabama Technology Network; Kiersten Dutenhaver, a welder with Marshall Space Flight Center; Mary Vervynckt of Inteva Products, LLC; Carol Gilliland, who works in human resources at Koller-Craft South; and Cindy Huelsman, Corporate Human Resources Director at Koller-Craft South. The panel guests discussed what inspired them to choose manufacturing careers, described the struggles they faced when they began working in the field and offered words of advice for the students.
Both Reynolds and Waters told the students that they tried to work as nurses before they began working in the manufacturing industry.
“I wish I had somebody when I was your age tell me, ‘Hey, don’t try to be a nurse,’” said Waters. “Just because that is what most females do, that doesn’t mean that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s okay to do whatever it is your heart is telling you to do.”
Ingle shared that she was the only female in her metallurgy classes and she was still the only female when she started working. In fact, Ingle’s first workplace did not even have a female restroom. Since the men’s restroom had no lock, a man would clear out the room and guard the door to prevent anyone from entering while Ingle used the restroom.
“Things have changed drastically since then,” said Ingle, noting that women in engineering fields have increased.
The panelists also discussed why the manufacturing field is a good career for women.
“I think it’s a wonderful, great way for a female to make a living,” said Reynolds. “The wages are great and it’s a lot of fun.”
Besides offering a good way to make a living, manufacturing offers interesting and intriguing work.
“When you go into a Sears or a Lowe’s and you see a range or a refrigerator, you never really stop and think about how somebody made every one of those little pieces on there,” said Waters.
“I know I’m biased, but I definitely think [manufacturing] is one of the best career paths out there.”
Several guest speakers stressed that women can not only work in manufacturing but excel in the field. Huelsman recounted a discussion with a male instructor during a search for an apprentice.
“He said, ‘Don’t discount the ladies.’” “He goes, ‘Those ladies are probably the best students I have ever had. They pay more attention. They can concentrate on the job. The guys get distracted and make a lot of mistakes. The girls do great.’”
Following the luncheon, the students traveled to Koller-Craft South for a tour of the facility.