The manufacturing sector, including the baking and snack market, is experiencing strong levels of optimism, with investments, wages and jobs all on a healthy trajectory, according to the National Association of Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey Fourth Quarter 2018. But the same survey also reveals that manufacturers are worried about the glut of open jobs and the lack of skilled workers to fill them — a workforce crisis that projects to worsen in the years to come.

At the same time, manufacturers find themselves working to adapt to the challenges that automation and digital technologies bring to their processes. It is fair to say that the manufacturing industry as a whole, and the baking and snack food market, in particular, is in a state of reinvention. Such a reboot is going to require changing approaches to the workforce: who to recruit, who to retain, who to promote — and how.

Attracting women to the baking and snack industry has never been more important.

Consider that according to the Department of Labor, women comprised 57% of the total U.S. labor force in 2016. They represent one of manufacturing’s largest untapped pools of talent, currently representing only 29% of the manufacturing sector.

But how can the baking and snack industry attract women? This issue was discussed at PACK EXPO International during the Empowering Women in Manufacturing event presented by the Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN). The event, sponsored by show organizer, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, brought together a panel of industry experts to discuss the importance of changing the mindset around manufacturing and promoting the value of careers in this industry to a more diverse potential workforce.

Panelists agreed the first step is to address the image of manufacturing and the baking and snack industry. For those unfamiliar with manufacturing, the vision of a manufacturing plant conjures up a dark, dirty, heavy-lifting environment where your role is to be a cog in a wheel. With this impression, who would want to work in this environment?

In order to change the workforce, the industry needs to change the mindset of what is manufacturing. Careers in manufacturing are diverse: from automation to procurement to working on the plant floor to sales and marketing. Facilities are clean and often climate controlled. The industry needs to educate young women (and men) about the opportunities for high paying, secure careers in today’s baking and snack food plants.

Manufacturers also need to adopt policies to encourage women into the industry. For example, women want flexibility and look for benefits such as teleworking and maternity leave. These types of shifts in policy can help to attract more women into the baking and snack sector.

Women alone cannot close the skills gap, but the untapped potential they represent can go a long way to making sure baking and snack plants today can meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Baking and snack manufacturers wanting to engage with this critical segment of our workforce should plan to attend the upcoming PPWLN networking event at ProFood Tech, being held March 26-28, 2019, in Chicago. ProFood Tech is a North American processing trade show that addresses all market sectors, welcoming 7,000 professionals from all food and beverage markets. Produced by PACK EXPO, Koelnmesse and the International Dairy Food Association, the three-day event showcases cutting-edge crossover technologies and innovative solutions from 400 exhibitors over 125,000 net square feet of exhibit space.

For more information and to register, visit