-  Jennifer McNelly, President of the Manufacturing Institute, was named one of STEMconnector's Top 100 Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The following is Jennifer's interview with STEMconnector. She reflects on the importance of women in the workplace and why she is passionate about STEM education and workforce.

Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
The United States is the world’s largest manufacturing economy, producing 21 percent of global manufactured products. In the last two years, manufacturers have added almost 500,000 new jobs. While manufacturing remains an important economic force in regions across the country, it now confronts some serious challenges: access to an educated and skilled workforce. Over 80% of manufacturers report moderate to serious shortages of skilled talent in the hiring pool, notably in skilled production, which has left 600,000 jobs unfilled today. Manufacturing has changed dramatically in this country, moving from a labor-intensive, low skill manufacturing base to a highly skilled, automated, and advanced manufacturing base. Applied STEM skills are not only a deficiency in today’s talent pool and critical to filling the skills gap, but are be increasingly important to the innovation and productivity that make U.S. manufacturing competitive in the global marketplace.

Of what one initiative you are most proud?
The NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System is a series of nationally portable, industry-recognized credentials based specifically on employer-identified skills. These credentials, and the training required to obtain them, certify that an individual possesses the basic skills necessary for a career in manufacturing and ensures that they are useful nationwide and across multiple manufacturing sectors. We consider these programs to be Applied STEM pathways for students, bringing real-world experience and application into the classroom and exciting the next generation of skilled manufacturing talent.

What about STEM gives you passion?
Over the past few months, STEM has enjoyed something of a national spotlight. STEM is certainly deserving of the recognition because it is an industry that is truly vital to our economic and national security, as well as our identity as a nation that invents and makes things. In the end, nothing gives me more passion for STEM than seeing a young student build and launch their first rocket or meeting a middle-aged adult who is pursuing an industry-recognized credential to return to work. At the end of the day, my passion is deeply rooted in impacting individuals, and STEM is the avenue in which this impact will happen at its greatest.

What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
We must first understand the challenges and solutions for attraction, retention and advancement of women in manufacturing fields. The Manufacturing Institute is partnering with Deloitte, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and University of Phoenix to deploy “STEPping it Up for Women in Manufacturing,” an initiative focused around recognition, research and education. The first annual STEP Awards will identify and highlight women—from the factory floor to the C-suite—who have demonstrated science, technology, engineering and production excellence in manufacturing. These women have contributed to the competitiveness of their company and have a positive impact on the industry as a whole. These women will be the face of women in manufacturing, making a powerful statement about the quality of women in the advanced manufacturing workforce and empowering other women to understand and pursue career opportunities in the industry.

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