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Rosie the Riveter and the Changing Face of the Manufacturing Workforce

Recently, Mary Doyle Keefe passed away at the age of 92. You may not recognize her name, but you’ll definitely recognize her face. Mary Doyle Keefe was the model for Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 painting, “Rosie the Riveter.” In the 1940’s, various versions of the painting symbolized the contributions of women in the workforce during World War II. Arguably the most iconic woman in manufacturing, Rosie was more than just a painting: she put a face to a movement.


Flash forward to today: Rosie is deserving of some new company. We need more “everyday” faces to associate with modern manufacturing and the changing workforce! Today, modern manufacturing is exciting and dynamic. U.S. products are created from a wide array of sectors from clothing and electronics to medical and transportation.

Technological advancements in fields such as 3D printing and robotics are creating new possibilities. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are even projected to grow by 8.65 million more workers by 2018 according to a study by STEM Connector® and My College Options®. Overall, U.S. manufacturing is estimated to support 17.4 Million U.S. diverse jobs including welders, computer programmers, fabricators, researchers, electricians and more.

With so many career opportunities in U.S. manufacturing, it’s fair to say that manufacturing belongs to all of us – old, young, men, women and so on. However, the workforce numbers haven’t quite caught up yet to manufacturing’s evolution. While women comprise more than half of the U.S. population, only 27% of manufacturing workers are women. According to the latest U.S. Census report, individuals from ages 18 to 44 make up approximately 40% of the population. Yet, just 20% of manufacturing jobs are filled by workers under the age of 45.

Many manufacturers refer to this as a “gap,” but I would like to abandon this thinking entirely. Instead of focusing on the negative, I have a different perspective: we have a great opportunity to attract more people into U.S. manufacturing.

In an article called, “International Paper Recruits Women in War for U.S. Talent,” International Paper CEO, John Faraci, explored this very issue. He noted that while women comprised 51% of the U.S. population, women make up only 23 percent of his payroll.  “It’s a war for talent. If we only compete for half the people that are on the planet, how are we going to get the best? You want to compete for everybody,” said Faraci.

As manufacturing continues to evolve, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that everyone is welcome in manufacturing, and we do this by humanizing manufacturing to attract new talent.

For example, have you seen any of the Heroes of American Manufacturing features yet? These videos are capturing what everyday manufacturing looks like. Here are two examples featuring workers from Louroe Electronics in Southern California and Omega Plastics in Detroit, Michigan. Additionally, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership launched a campaign to personalize our industry called “the Faces of Manufacturing,” which features individuals such as Rhonda Beasley.

And come this October 2nd, the nation will come together to celebrate the fourth annual National Manufacturing Day. Manufacturing Day celebrates modern manufacturing and aims to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.

As a community, we need to come together and show the public what U.S. manufacturing is all about – our industry depends on it! So cheers to Rosie the Riveter, and may many more individuals join you as a face of manufacturing!

Useful Links on this Topic


National Association of Manufacturers, The Manufacturing Institute, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

About the author

Mary Ann Pacelli

Mary Ann Pacelli, M.Ed., is the Division Chief for Network Learning and Strategic Competitions with the NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  In this role, Mary Ann oversees the special competitions award process and the development and implementation of a plan for Learning and Knowledge Sharing across the National Network.  Recently Mary Ann was the Program Manager, Workforce Development, at MEP for over 4 years.  Her work included advocating for Manufacturing Workforce priorities with related federal agencies and providing technical support to the network of MEP centers across the country for workforce related activities.  In addition, she manages special MEP projects, and coordinates the Workforce Directors of the Manufacturing USA Institute Network, on behalf of the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Program Office. 

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