In a day and age where women have an increasing presence in the workforce, one woman has been working to engage and empower young women in the manufacturing sector in South Dakota.“When I first started out in manufacturing, I quickly realized that I had nobody to talk to—there weren’t any women leaders I could brainstorm with or bounce ideas off of,” Anja White recalled. “It struck me one day that that could be a detriment to my professional development.”White, who was born and raised in Germany, is the general manager of Sparton Corporation in Watertown, South Dakota. Although she loves working in manufacturing, White says she never dreamed she would make a living in this industry.“Back home in Germany, the goal was actually to take over my father’s painting business,” White said. “I received my degree as a journeyman painter, but when I moved to the United States in 1985, I realized I needed skills employers would recognize and could utilize in their company. So I went back to school and earned my BA and MBA. I worked as an administrator, I worked in human resources, built my career through various roles in operations and executive leadership, and when the opportunity came to serve as Sparton’s general manager, I felt compelled to accept.”White knew that in order for her to excel and continue in manufacturing, she needed a network of peers she could rely on. She realized that if she wanted a network of women in manufacturing, she had to create it herself.“I co-founded the MN Women Leading Manufacturing, which is a network designed to bring women who are in manufacturing together,” White said. “Women make up a very small segment in this industry, but we continue to grow. I have a huge passion for making sure there is no gender barrier in manufacturing, and this network helps facilitate that passion.”White says that getting young women involved in manufacturing takes two things: 1) Show them it’s not impossible and 2) Start with the parents.“For years, parents pushed their kids into fields like accounting, law, marketing and general business, and manufacturing was never a consideration. Why? I think it’s because we were taught that that’s where the money was at, and sure, you can be successful in those industry sectors. But manufacturing provides so many professional opportunities people just don’t know about,” White said. “I want the parents out there to see that manufacturing has drastically changed over the last couple decades and move it to the top of the list as a career option for their children.”White continues to urge parents and students, both men and women, to really delve into what manufacturing has to offer, especially in South Dakota.“In order for us to fill our open positions and generate interest, we have to keep talking about it—we have to make manufacturing a topic of discussion—in the home around the dinner table and at school, too. Ask your school counselors to help you find more information on career opportunities, invite local manufactures into the school system or ask for tours through the facilities. Communicating the endless opportunities is what will make manufacturing thrive.”To learn more about Sparton Corporation, visit www.sparton.com. For more information on local SD Manufacturing Week-related activities going on in Watertown and across South Dakota, please visit http://sdreadytopartner.com/sdmfgweek.
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