TAMPA — It's a dirty, tedious job, with strict clock-in, clock-out hours, and most of the employees are men.
At least that's the public perception the manufacturing industry grapples with as it struggles to attract women.
Currently, women make up about 27 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce, and Hillsborough County businesses, politicians, educators and community leaders are working to change that. They boast of high-tech machines that create food products, medical devices and gadgets that are used in defense and aerospace where women can work in clean, open workspaces with plenty of opportunities for job growth and flexible schedules.
Last week, about 50 parents, students and industry representatives gathered at Middleton High School for a ''women in manufacturing'' panel discussion focused on changing public perception and encouraging young people and their parents to consider jobs in the sector.
"It's a job I'm proud of," said Nidia Morales, a production team leader at CardioCommand Inc., in Tampa. Morales said she has been in the industry for more than 30 years and was originally drawn by a newspaper advertisement on job training.
"I was scared when I was first put on the assembly line," she said. "But even if you don't have the skills, they help teach you."
Industry employees can receive-on-the-job training, as Morales did, or enter the field with a college degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.
Morales, for example, builds medical equipment, like catheters. That work held extra meaning after her mother became ill and doctors used the device in her treatment.
"I built that with my own hands, and it was used to save her life," she told the crowd.
While manufacturing in Florida grew 4.4 percent from September 2015 to 2016, it remains a relatively minor piece of the local economy. The sector supports 62,500 jobs in the Tampa Bay region, compared with about 1.15 million in the service industry and 227,000 in professional and business services. Local average manufacturing wages in the region start at about $26,000 a year and go up to more than $80,000.
Contact Alli Knothe at email@example.com. Follow @KnotheA.