Last month, I stumbled across an organization called Women of Today’s Manufacturing (WOTM). This group provides career pathways for women in manufacturing and scholarships to Rockford-area students pursuing careers in manufacturing and STEM fields. A few emails and LinkedIn messages later, I was on a video call with current president Jaclyn Kolodziej, former president Carrie Zethmayr, and Joie Vittetow, a WOTM member who’s also an engineering student at Northern Illinois University.
What was intended as an informational interview quickly developed into a fluid conversation on barriers to workplace diversity and what steps can be taken to get us closer to gender parity in manufacturing. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Can you tell us a bit about Women of Today’s Manufacturing? What do you do? Carrie: We are a community-based organization that provides support to women in manufacturing. WOTM originated as part of a national organization but the two parted ways in the early aughts. There was a feeling that the national association was spending too much of its resources in DC, that it was becoming out of sync with the needs of the Rockford community. We became a standalone entity and restructured to focus on the needs of our local community.
What are your current focuses? Carrie: We recently re-centered around three strategic initiatives: providing educational programming to our members, scholarships, and building career pathways. We host educational programs to keep leaders and line workers in step with cutting edge trends in the industry and to help our members bring increased value to their employers. We provide scholarships to those seeking to develop their STEM skills. Our career pathways strategy is focused on making connections in the community to help students and under-employed women (and men) enter the manufacturing workforce.
That’s admirable. I also understand your scope goes beyond just supporting young women in manufacturing. Carrie: That’s correct. In recent years we’ve expanded to include services for adults in career transition or those who are returning to the workforce after a long absence. To clarify, our scholarship program is two-fold; one scholarship is available only to girls, and the second is open to anyone pursuing manufacturing-related higher education. We expanded the offerings to address the needs of our community.
Illinois lawmakers passed a handful of bills last year tasked with strengthening apprenticeship programs across the state. We wrote about that on our blog last month. How can governments better support initiatives to get more women involved in manufacturing? Whose responsibility is it to make this happen? Jaclyn: It’s great to hear that state legislators are paying more attention to this issue. What I’d suggest they keep in mind is that it’s important to include people who have boots on the ground. We see the issues first-hand and have the ability to give expert advice on what’s best for our communities. It’s been wonderful to see the level of support we’ve gotten from businesses and individuals right here in our community. We’d be grateful to have similar support from local government, as long as it’s informed.
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