A Q&A with Gardner Carrick, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for The Manufacturing Institute, The National Association of Manufacturers

Insights & Outlooks: What are the most important education and training priorities for the manufacturing sector today?

Manufacturers across the country are facing a workforce crisis.  Surveys of the members of the National Association of Manufacturers have shown finding and retaining a qualified workforce to be the top concern for nearly two years running.  This is demonstrated in the data with half a million jobs open in manufacturing right now and as many as 2.4 million jobs that could go unfilled over the next decade. There simply are not enough men and women with the skills necessary to fill the jobs manufacturers need right now.

To address this problem, The Manufacturing Institute—the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—is sponsoring programs to attract more individuals to careers in manufacturing and equip them with the skills necessary to be successful in those careers.  Examples include MFG Day, when companies invite parents, students and teachers to tour their facilities and learn about careers available in manufacturing and Heroes MAKE America, our military-to-manufacturing program that equips soldiers completing their military service with skills that enable them to transition into careers in manufacturing.

Manufacturers recognize that this workforce challenge requires solutions beyond their traditional approaches.  From looking to recruit and retain more women in manufacturing to developing earn and learn program that train the next generation of manufacturing employees, companies are prioritizing new ways to address their greatest challenge.

Insights & Outlooks: What were the origins of the “credential ladder” project and how did The Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers get involved?

Ten years ago, the leadership of The Manufacturing Institute surveyed the landscape of available credentials in manufacturing and discovered a state of chaos.  Neither schools nor employers knew which credentials were of quality or what skills they purported to validate. In response, the Institute team put those credentials through an evaluation process and selected a group of organizations and credentials that would form the basis of the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System.  The system included credentials that validated a core set of manufacturing skills common across all occupations, as well as a set of credentials that formed a ladder into specific occupations such as welding, machining and industrial maintenance.

Insights & Outlooks: What is NAM learning from your work on alternative credentials and upskilling?

Our work on the Skills Certification System coincided with a greater emphasis by policymakers and funders (both public and private) on expanding the attainment of industry-based credentials.  Community colleges received substantial funding to embed these credentials into traditional education pathways, and we saw a significant increase in the number of students earning the credentials endorsed by our organization.  But there is still much work to be done on gaining a greater recognition of these credentials across the industry. Manufacturing does not have the same tradition as other industries in using these alternative credentials for hiring or upskilling, so our more recent efforts have focused on evaluating the labor market outcomes of individuals that have earned these credentials to bolster the business case for their use.

Insights & Outlooks: What are some of the innovative models that manufacturing leaders are using that benefit employers and workers alike?

Manufacturers are engaging directly with education and workforce groups in their local communities to make sure the right curriculum, equipment and work-based learning opportunities are being presented. One example of an innovative model is the Manufacturing and Academic Partnership (MAP) that was created by 3M.  The program works with education institutions across levels to provide equipment to community colleges that is shared with local high schools, beginning the change in perception kids have when they are exposed to the reality of modern manufacturing at a young age and creating a pipeline into manufacturing programs at community colleges.  In addition to this investment, 3M employees participate with the local high schools to offer projects on the equipment they provide, demonstrating how it is used in everyday manufacturing.

Another innovative model is the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education or FAME.  Started by Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky in 2010 to create the best entry-level multi-skilled maintenance technician, the program operates similarly to a traditional apprenticeship model where students spend three days a week at work and two days a week at school for five consecutive semesters.  What makes this program stand out, though, is in its emphasis on embedding manufacturing culture and professional behaviors into the traditional technical curriculum. The program has gained widespread support among other manufacturers and is now found in 21 locations with over 250 companies sponsoring over 650 students with many more regions and companies interested in replicating the program.

Insights & Outlooks: What policy reforms are needed to ensure that students who are transitioning from the workforce to postsecondary education are able to do so seamlessly?

Earn-and-learn programs are one of the best ways to assist individuals in making a successful transition from postsecondary education to the workforce. Apprenticeships are one example of earn-and-learn programs that have been found to be hugely successful for companies and individuals. The most important policy reforms for apprenticeships are that they allow for flexibility in the design and implementation of the program so that companies can deliver a program that is effective and efficient for themselves and the individuals participating. Also, it is critical that there is funding to continue to implement new, innovative designs of apprenticeships across the country.

While apprenticeships are one form of earn-and-learn programs, work study programs are another great example of potentially impactful ways to help individuals transfer into the workforce seamlessly. The work study program should be reformed to allow more opportunities for students to work off campus at for-profit companies to gain real world experience that is applicable to their careers. Also, the work study program should be more available at community colleges and universities with higher numbers of individuals who are receiving Pell grants. We look forward to seeing the results of the administration’s experimental site on work-study.