Fail on your way to a satisfying engineering career

Think Again: Youth, especially girls, need extra encouragement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics. Are you doing your part to help girls fail in STEM? (“Did he really just say that?”) Let them know failure is OK on the way to a successful engineering career in manufacturing.

By Mark T. Hoske October 24, 2014

Fall’s in full swing, children are back in school, U.S. Manufacturing Day was Oct. 3, and youth, especially girls, need extra encouragement to fail in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics. Yes, that sounds mean and contradictory. But I suspect you know exactly what I mean. STEM topics, especially if taught traditionally or without imagination, may be difficult. And the tendency can be to try to protect our children, especially girls, from hardship. Parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, and school counselors generally can be protective and may encourage girls to pursue other areas, rather than embrace and work through STEM challenges. 

Embrace the challenge

"Girls are told to drop the science and math interests to secure their grade point averages, and they are being ‘rescued’ from difficult situations, while their male counterparts tend to take risks and are not being judged for failures," said the STEM development manager for PBS Kids’ SciGirls, Ginger Wange, in a presentation at the Women in Manufacturing (WiM) Summit in Schaumburg, Ill., last month.

SciGirls is a multi-platform PBS program showcasing girls doing hands-on science and math projects and failing at some point. "It is crucial to teach girls how to embrace failures," Wange said. See "News" in this issue for "7 strategies to keep young girls engaged in math and science."

Also at the summit, Natalie Panek, mission systems engineer, MDA Space Missions, said youth need engineering role models and mentors to look up to. "Last time when I was doing a speech, I asked young females about whom they identify as role models today. A lot of them know Kim Kardashian, but not successful career women. We need our media to show more women engineers and scientists to inspire young girls."

WiM partnered with Plante Moran, surveying 877 women in manufacturing and other women. More than 80% of women in manufacturing today say that their work is interesting and challenging, and half of women in manufacturing say that compensation is the most significant benefit of the sector. Everyone needs to do a better job communicating the opportunities. Think again if you consider today’s efforts as adequate. Young women remain woefully unaware of the opportunities available to them in the manufacturing sector, the WiM findings said. Less than half of young women believe that manufacturing offers the interesting and challenging work they’re seeking, and less than 10% of young women placed manufacturing among the top five career fields that they feel offer the most opportunity for young women today, the study said.

ONLINE extra

This online article expands upon the information in the October 2014 print and digital edition of Control Engineering, with links to related resources and other Control Engineering coverage from the WiM event. And from IMTS, see: "Engineering is fun: former NASA astronaut on turning dreams into careers," where former NASA astronaut Wendy B. Lawrence, speaker at the Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2014, discussed how to turn dreams into a lifetime career.

Other survey findings follow, according to WiM:

– 74% of women working in manufacturing believe that the sector offers multiple career paths for women, and more than half of women in manufacturing today think that the sector is a leading industry for job growth for women. In addition, 64% of women working in manufacturing reported that they would recommend a career in manufacturing to a young woman.

– “Our survey is particularly relevant with Manufacturing Day approaching later this week, a day focused on introducing manufacturing to young people and their parents,” said Allison Grealis, WiM director. “Because the survey focused both on women who are already in the manufacturing sector and young women outside the sector who are considering the wide array of career options available to them, the results are forward-looking and poised to benefit recruitment efforts.”

– “On the whole, these survey results should be seen as a call to action in a space where there is great opportunity,” Grealis continued. “When we know what young women are looking for in careers, we are in a better position to demonstrate how manufacturing can help them meet their aspirations. We have long known that women are good for manufacturing; and these survey results go a long way to showing that manufacturing is good for women, too.”

See also:

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.