Encouraging women to pursue careers in manufacturing

October 14, 2022
Sarah Smith, Owner, Central Kentucky Tool

Work Matters Column by SARAH SMITH 

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women only make up 30 percent of the 15.8 million people employed in manufacturing industries. In addition, only one in four manufacturing leaders are women. As the owner of a manufacturing business, Central Kentucky Tool, encouraging women in the region to pursue careers in manufacturing has become a major passion of mine.

Based in Lebanon, Central Kentucky Tool has been manufacturing precision parts and fabrication solutions for over half a century. We are a Women’s Business Enterprise-certified operation with two divisions, and our core strengths include crafting assorted weldments, returnable steel packaging, precision parts, machine replacement parts, fixtures and jigs, tool and die and light assembly.

When my husband Alex and I purchased the business in 2019, we set out to continue honoring its rich history of providing excellent service to customers throughout the region, a tradition that started in 1971 when William “Bob” Mattingly Jr. founded the business. We currently have 45 excellent employees working at our facility. 

So much of our success at Central Kentucky Tool is a direct result of the quality of our team members and the diverse perspectives they provide. We have an incredible team of employees who have vast collective experience and a passion for the work they do. Our team is made up of people of varying backgrounds in regard to gender, race and religion. And so much of our greatness can be attributed to that diversity. 

As a local leader in the manufacturing sector, it’s important for me to prioritize diversity in the industry. Unfortunately, manufacturing is still often viewed as a male-oriented sector. Based on my own experience, I know that those who are detail-oriented and enjoy working with their hands often become exceptional welders and fabricators. So many women and girls are gifted with these skills, but aren’t exposed to careers in manufacturing. 

Addressing this issue starts with those working in manufacturing today. It’s imperative that we introduce ourselves and the work we do to women and girls who are trying to decide upon a career path. 

At Central Kentucky Tool, that has been a major focus. We often offer mock interviews for area high school students, and I always make a point to attend these events to ensure that local girls realize gender is not a barrier when it comes to succeeding in the manufacturing field. When we are able to host internships and co-op opportunities, I make certain that any woman or girl with even the slightest interest in working in our field is accommodated with information about the work we do and a welcoming opportunity to gain experience at our facility. 

Another way to attract more women into the field of manufacturing is to dispel antiquated notions of what manufacturing work looks like. When many think about work in the field of manufacturing, they often picture someone with calloused hands and grease-stained clothes. In reality, careers in manufacturing encompass much more than just working on the floor. In this industry, we have administrators, engineers, computer aided draft and design (CADD) technicians, and so much more. 

Fortunately, many women in the manufacturing sector have united in recent years to offer mutual support and lead the way toward a more equitable future in the industry. An organization that has been on the forefront of gender diversity advocacy in manufacturing is Women in Manufacturing. A national organization, Women in Manufacturing supports the attraction, retention and advancement of women in the manufacturing industry. The organization includes a Kentucky chapter, which is made up of active members from around the state. 

As a member of the Kentucky chapter, I can attest to the value gained from the exchange of ideas among members and networking opportunities during facility tours and other events. Membership is open to professionals in a variety of industries within the manufacturing sector, including those who work in management, production, engineering and more. To learn more, visit womeninmanufacturing.org/kentucky. 

Manufacturing jobs are in high demand in the region and there are many resources available to help with the first step toward a career in the field, including the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail.

KCC-LT can help you determine if tuition assistance or other types of training assistance may be available to you. Tuition assistance is offered by the U.S. Department of Labor via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to individuals pursuing careers in in-demand fields such as manufacturing. To learn more, visit ltcareercenter.org. 

Sarah Smith is the owner of Lebanon-based manufacturer Central Kentucky Tool and serves on the Lincoln Trail Area Workforce Development Board. She can be reached at sarahs@ckytool.com

The Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail helps match job seekers with local employment and training opportunities. Our business solutions team offers employers of all sizes and industries personalized support to build a competitive workforce. We are an equal opportunity employer.
Program is funded with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I funds through the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board.
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