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Women participation rate in labor force declining

By Brianna Liestman

Addressing the workforce issue in the marine industry will take more than introducing boating careers to potential employees. We have to address real barriers we have in reaching young people. One such barrier is reaching out to young women, who make up a large percentage of our potential workforce.

Pew Research reports that women account for 46.8 percent of the labor force in the U.S. Women make up a larger percentage of the U.S.’s workforce than in the European Union (46.5 percent) and the female workforce is higher in the U.S. than the median across the 114 countries Pew examined, but 39 countries outrank us.

Data shows, however, that the participation rate of women in the workforce is declining and set to continue falling. There could be a number of reasons for this drop, but one reason economists have pointed to is the cost of childcare: female participation in the workforce began declining two decades ago, just as childcare costs began rising.

In 2013, Pew reported that the wages of Millennial women were on or near parity with their male colleagues, but that as they age a gap is likely to form. Pew suggested this would be due to similar interruptions in their careers previous generations faced:

“Motherhood is one factor, as it can lead to interruptions in career paths for women and increased time spent on unpaid work at home. Most Millennial women aren’t there yet, but when they do have young children at home, their level of participation in the labor force is likely to decline.”

Attracting women to skilled labor jobs has its own challenges, most of which are the same as attracting any young person to a marine trades career. However, one specific area where we can make the industry more appealing is by adopting flexible family leave policies in our businesses if they don’t already exist; fairly or unfairly, the burden of caring for new infants and aging parents tends to be borne by women. Offering flexible benefits will give the industry a competitive advantage, and hopefully encourage employees to stay in the workforce instead of leaving to care for family.

Some marine businesses already do a great job with this. For instance, Boating Industry Top 100 dealer Marine Center of Indiana hosts a preschool on its campus, which is an accredited Early Childhood Development school and is offered at a discounted rate, which helps ease the burden of childcare costs.

So if we are serious about addressing the workforce crisis in our industry, we need to identify who is out there looking for work and what we can do to bring them to us. Benefits are expensive to change, there is not doubt about that, but the choice will soon be between paying more for benefits or working with a smaller pool of potential employees. Can we afford to continue losing participation in marine careers?

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