Experts Examine Ways to Build Equity and Diversity in Manufacturing

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The Century Foundation and Urban Manufacturing Alliance partnered for a special webinar.

On Thursday, experts from The Century Foundation and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance held a Zoom webinar, “Pursuing Equity, Inclusion and Industrial Rebirth in the Age of COVID-19.”  This event addressed several racial barriers in the manufacturing sector, including opportunities in education and workforce development programs, challenges with leadership in the workplace, and preparing for a new generation of diverse manufacturing workers.

Panelists offered insight on how to integrate current systems in factory jobs to meet the needs of the current climate, including how to recruit more people of color to work in manufacturing, create equal pay and job placement, and provide educational resources for those who come from a diverse or underprivileged community. Additionally, they also looked at what hiring a diverse workforce in manufacturing could look like after the COVID-19 pandemic is mitigated.

Panelists included Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation; Autumn Russell, executive director of the Early College, Early Career program at MAGNET; Lee Wellington, executive director at the Urban Manufacturing Alliance; Rhandi Berth, chief innovations officer at the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership; and the moderator, Dr. Ron Williams, professor of management at Coppin State University.

The coronavirus crisis has shown why it’s so important to have a robust manufacturing sector. America’s inability to quickly ramp up production of the masks, ventilators and other things we needed to respond has led to an emerging consensus that the U.S. needs to reshore much of this critical manufacturing.

As the country does that, it also must find ways to connect communities of color with good-paying jobs in manufacturing. But there are obstacles, panelists pointed out. Trust barriers exist in the industrial sector between people of color and those in management or leadership positions, for example. Very few manufacturing companies are owned by people of color – in Illinois, 82.6 percent of firms are owned by white people, compared to 0.5 percent which are Black-owned and 3.2 percent that are owned by Hispanics or Latinos.

There also have been challenges providing accessible educational and training opportunities for people of color. But doing so is essential, because that is where the work of building equity and diversity in manufacturing begins. As employers in the manufacturing sector look to recruit more people of color, connecting them with accessible education and training programs will be critical.

One example is MAGNET’s Early College and Early Career program, which is designed to help the underprivileged and people of color get the education and experience they need to thrive in industrial jobs. The program provides work-based learning, education through college credits, and job-readiness training and through coaching and mentorship programs.

The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership offers a program that conducts and responds to industrial needs, and develops pre-employment and entry-level manufacturing skills training. Meanwhile, the Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship focuses on production workers in all manufacturing sectors via an 18-month, on-the-job training program.

Panelists also touted the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a national program within the Commerce Department that helps small and medium-sized manufacturing companies compete and grow. It plays a large role in introducing organizations, non-profits and small and mid-sized businesses and their works to a diverse ecosystem.