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Panel encourages women to consider careers in manufacturing

GENEVA – Women should consider careers in manufacturing, as they tend to do well in all aspects of manufacturing, according to a panel of seven women who shared their experiences.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, hosted the panel at the Valley Industrial Association headquarters in Geneva on Oct. 30.

The women told of how they had not considered manufacturing as a career, but then found they loved it.

Janice Christiansen, president and CEO of J.C. Schultz/Flag Source Inc. and former chairwoman of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said she is encouraged by all the talented and competent women she meets when she is asked to speak.

Rose of Sharon Devos, the business development manager for Pioneer Service Inc. in Addison, said she has been in manufacturing for 17 years.

Devos said she started in inside sales for a failing company that was bought by another company from Austria – which saved thousands of jobs and expanded her career in sales and allowed her to travel the world.

Nicole Wolter, president of HM Manufacturing in Wauconda, said her father started the business.

Wolter started in shipping, then did sales, gave quotes and then some accounting, eventually leading to doing cost analysis of manufacturing parts.

Eventually, she discovered the shop’s employees were thieving.

“They started their own business inside,” Wolter said.

“They were beating us on lead times, beating us on materials.”

She and her father fired 12 employees, leaving the company with three workers and three months of capital, eventually turning things around, Wolter said.

Gail Hernley, the chief financial officer of TekPak Inc. in Batavia, said she became interested in how things worked after being employed in a factory that made motor bases during the summer.

Stacia Hobson, co-owner of Image Industries Inc. in Huntley, said she started out at her father’s company, first answering phones, then doing sales full time.

The company did distribution and Hobson took complaints from customers that they were not getting their products fast enough.

“I said, ‘Why are we not doing this? We should be making stuff,’” Hobson said. “I was 24 and a little naive. How hard can it be?”

But she learned, and the company opened a new division, Hobson said.

“The women on my plant floor outproduce the men,” Hobson said. “They rock it every day.”

Mary Ann Mings, vice president of Suncast Corp. in Batavia, said anything made of plastic in someone’s backyard was likely made by her company.

Mings started out 25 years ago finishing a master’s thesis on teamwork, going around the country to talk to major corporations about the topic.

She talked to the man who owned Suncast who ended up offering her a job.

Over the years, the owner kept giving her new responsibilities, and when she protested about not knowing about it, he would say, “Go. Figure it out,” Mings said.

Mings acknowledged that men, who are the majority in manufacturing, are not always polite or respectful.

“I think [manufacturing] is a good fit for women, once they get past the stereotype,” Mings said. “Fight the fight, and don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Waubonsee Community College President Christine Sobek said the college does outreach to school districts, especially trying to get young girls and young women to be interested in manufacturing.

“We had a pink hard hat day, where 120 high school students came to campus in Sugar Grove to look firsthand at careers in manufacturing,” Sobek said.

The college also strives to reach out to adults in jobs that are not fulfilling or paying a decent wage to see if they would make a transition to manufacturing, Sobek said.

“Parents need to understand this is a viable career, where you can make a good living, a substantial living,” Hobson said.

At Suncast, everyone is welcome, no matter what their ethnicity or gender – or even if their socks don’t match, Mings said.

“We have five people who came from homeless shelters, and now they own houses,” Mings said.

“We don’t care where you came from. I don’t care what you look like. Can you do that job, and can you be promoted to another job?”

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