What comes to mind at the mention of women in manufacturing?
Rosie the Riveter, perhaps? Our minds revert to a throwback from the early 1940s. The only reason we have that icon is because men were off to war and someone—women—had to do the job. Once the necessity was over, the Rosies went back to non-manufacturing duties. Subsequent potential Rosies were prohibited or, at the very least, discouraged from taking technical and skilled trade classes.
Today, a smaller percentage of women are choosing to be Rosies than the originals, despite the evolution of STEM and manufacturing. Fortunately, an initiative is growing to put more girls in contact with manufacturing equipment.
In partnership with three regional Arkansas education cooperatives, Ledwell kicked off Women’s History Month by hosting a manufacturing competition for high-school girls. The “Girl Power to the Max” event, held on March 1, showcased the entries of 21 finalists. Similar to applying for a job, the finalists were judged on creativity, construction design, technical skill, and interview responses.
Girls from De Queen-Mena, South Central, and Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperatives created projects, ranging from decorative to functional, using CNC cutting and lasering with an emphasis on welding and power structural systems. CNC, or computer numerical control, involves using specific computer-programming language to control the movement of factory machinery.
Essentially, it is modernized manufacturing and applicable STEM.
The goal of the competition is to increase the number of females seeking and qualifying for high-paying, high-demand, and highly skilled innovative construction/manufacturing occupations. Forty girls participated in last year’s competition, but that number increased to 125 this year.
Not only did more students enter the contest, more girls surveyed after the event answered that they would be interested in working toward a future in STEM or manufacturing. This is a big win for the competition!
Another win for the program includes significant grants from the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Career and Technical Education that have been awarded to districts without the latest CNC and laser equipment. Therefore, students will be learning to use machines that are being used in today’s manufacturing workforce.
Technical teachers are also receiving professional development led by welding instructors to update their skills and knowledge. Ledwell has offered to be in partnership in this endeavor.
With its educational outreach and in conjunction with “Girl Power to the Max” organizers, Ledwell plans to put more Rosies in the manufacturing workforce. Rosie will no longer be an image from the past but a trailblazer of the future.