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Digitalisation will “empower women in manufacturing”

To mark International Women’s Day, three trailblazing women explain how the digital transformation of manufacturing has the potential to kick-start a golden age for women in the industry.

To mark International Women’s Day, three trailblazing women explain how the digital transformation of manufacturing has the potential to kick-start a golden age for women in the industry.

Andrea Thompson, Managing Director for Europe and International Programmes at BAE Systems; Andrea Hough, Managing Director of Manchester-based ATEC Engineering Solutions; and Donna Edwards, Programme Director for Made Smarter North West, all play important roles in helping SMEs to boost productivity and growth through the Made Smarter initiative.

Andrea Thompson worked her way up from supervising on the shop floor and now hopes to inspire the next generation of women to follow suit through her role as chair of the Made Smarter North West Pilot:

“When I started in manufacturing it was another world. I was one of very few women going into the automotive industry – particularly the manufacturing end of it. Women’s interest in the sector just wasn’t there back then in any large numbers. Today, the environment has a much higher percentage of females, and in all kinds of ranks.

“As well as a cultural perspective, [manufacturing has] changed from a manual outlook. There’s no counting. Instead it’s analysing data, figuring out how to be more efficient and effective. A completely different skillset is required. And women have this. They bring data analytical skills, along with a forward-thinking, strategic and innovative approach.”

Andrea Hough, a member of the North West Pilot steering group, started her career as an apprentice and worked in IT and production roles before becoming MD. She said:

“Data has always been at the core of my decision making throughout my career. That is more important than ever given that data and analytics are central to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I believe we have reached a turning point in manufacturing and that technology has the power to inspire a generation of young women.

“When I visit schools, I drum the message home that the stereotypical views of it being a dirty, unglamorous, butch environment are wrong. They don’t have to change their look or style to be an engineer. They can still be 'female' and do the same jobs as men without losing their identity.”

Donna Edwards, who started her career in manufacturing in a HR and training role, said she had seen an “incredible” change in manufacturing in the three decades since joining the industry:

“I have overseen many projects in my career, but nothing inspires me more than Made Smarter. Our ambition [to] kick-start a new industrial revolution for the manufacturing sector and turn the UK into a world leader in digital technologies, starting in the North West, has really taken off.

“This is a once in a generational opportunity to boost productivity, create high value and highly paid jobs of the future, for both men and women.”

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