February 25, 2021

At This Girls’ Camp, Crafts Take a Drill Press

Though the slim, 5-foot-5 teenager dreams of becoming a basketball star, Nautika now has a backup plan after her weeklong immersion course: a career in manufacturing.

Just over a quarter of the 11.7 million workers in manufacturing are women. But Gadget Camp, a workshop for girls in this suburb west of Chicago, is part of an effort to change that.

Although the economy is wobbling and nearly 14 million people are looking for work, some employers are still having a hard time finding skilled workers for certain positions. Manufacturers in particular complain that few applicants can operate computerized equipment, read blueprints and solve production problems. And with the baby boomers starting to retire, these and other employers worry there will be few young workers willing or able to replace them.

Gadget Camp, sponsored in part by a foundation affiliated with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, which provided financing to nine other camps this summer, is intended to help over the long haul by exposing girls to an occupation they might previously have considered unappealing, if they considered it at all.

By the last day of camp, Nautika had told her parents that manufacturing was “cool.” Fashioning a lamp shade out of a thin piece of cardboard, she mused, “I have two good careers ahead of me.” Since the fragile recovery began, manufacturing is one of the few sectors that have added jobs. But the image of manufacturing as an occupation of the future has been tarnished by the exodus of factory jobs to foreign sites and the use of machinery to replace workers. Younger people, especially, see more alluring opportunities in digital technology, finance or health care.

“The perception is that there are no jobs in manufacturing,” said Susan H. Palisano, director of education and training at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, a nonprofit group in East Hartford that promotes manufacturing employment and has run summer programs for middle-school students for the last three years. “It seems that everybody had an uncle or grandfather that got laid off.”

Across the country, a handful of companies, nonprofit groups, public educational agencies and even science museums are trying to make manufacturing seem, well, fun. Focusing mainly on children aged 10 to 17, organizations including the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa.; and Stihl, a maker of chain saws and other outdoor power equipment in Virginia Beach, Va., run camps that let students operate basic machinery, meet workers and make things.

Nuts, Bolts Thingamajigs, the foundation that helped sponsor the Gadget camp in River Grove, has awarded $2,500 grants to 112 manufacturing-themed camps — most of them for boys and girls — around the country since 2004. “It’s not easy getting people into the career field,” said Marcia Arndt, a board member of the foundation. “I think there’s a myth out there that manufacturing is dirty and undesirable, but it’s really highly technological.”

Impressions also persist that manufacturing is a man’s job. Technical fields in general, and those that require scientific or mathematical backgrounds, are indeed dominated by men. Yet a Commerce Department report released early this month showed that women in such fields earn 33 percent more, on average, than women working outside of scientific and technical fields, a higher premium than men enjoy in similar occupations.

Antigone Sharris, who came up with the idea for the all-girls Gadget camp, had worked extensively in manufacturing before becoming an instructor in electronics, welding and computer-aided machinery at Triton College, a two-year public school here that provided some funding for the camp.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ab16d2db4569a4464e313a2314bf31be

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