Dear Matt: I've been looking to make a career change. I keep hearing about all these openings in the manufacturing industry. What skills are needed, and what opportunities are available for women?

Matt says: There is definitely opportunity in the manufacturing industry. One study estimates that two-thirds of manufacturing companies are hiring, and that there will be a shortage of 873,000 skilled workers by 2020.

"There is an acute labor shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing," said Marni Hockenberg, owner of Twin Cities-based Hockenberg Search (, a company that specializes in recruiting senior leadership for the manufacturing industry. As the founder of the 400-member Minnesota Manufacturing Executives group, Hockenberg works closely with employers and leaders in the industry.

Technical jobs in high demand include CNC operator/programmer, welder, manufacturing engineer, machinist, sheet metal fabricator, tool and die maker and field technician. The average salary is $56,315. There are also non-technical jobs such as sales, marketing, human resources, accounting, purchasing and logistics. All offer advancement opportunities with highly transferable skill sets. Also, said Hockenberg, typical female personality traits such as collaboration, team work, listening, creativity, innovation, imagination and customer service are highly valued in manufacturing.

For education options, contact one of the many local technical colleges ( Other resources include the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association ( and, which has a great section on Minnesota manufacturing education and careers ( Many local staffing companies also work with manufacturing firms.

"A graduate of a two-year program in a manufacturing-related career path will learn skills that can lead to a well-paying job upon graduation -- probably with multiple offers -- and won't have the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay," said Hockenberg. "Many vo-tech graduates eventually go on to earn a four-year degree, often paid for by their employer. Some go on to graduate with an MBA and earn six-figure incomes."

Taking a tour of a manufacturing company is an excellent way to learn about industry opportunities and to dispel the myths that manufacturing jobs aren't for women, or are only in dirty, noisy workplaces. That's just not true.

"If you are interested in making things with your hands, manufacturing is an excellent career to pursue," said Hockenberg. "Not everyone is wired to sit in an office all day long for years on end."