Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

This week’s issue looks at payoffs for manufacturing certifications, the industry’s evolving demand for skills, a manufacturing bootcamp in Florida, and what’s in the Build Back Better Act. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)

Outcomes for Skills Certifications

Most of the action with short-term and alternative credentialing is happening in the IT, health care, and manufacturing industries. And these emerging pathways to jobs differ across each sector.

IT credentialing typically has been dominated by big companies, which have the scale to determine the skills and training workers need to break into the industry—and to work with their widely used platforms and software.

Health care is heavily regulated, with governments and licensing bodies setting skills requirements for relatively well-defined certifications and credentials.

Manufacturing is more chaotic. Credentials tend to feature vendor-specific training that doesn’t apply to other jobs. And automation is helping to ratchet up competition between companies, as they scramble to develop training for rapidly emerging automation-based skills.

Beginning a decade ago, the Manufacturing Institute has worked with employers in the sector to encourage the development and use of industry-based certifications, while also seeking to organize the credentials.

The project has faced significant headwinds, however. It’s hard to track results, particularly for noncredit credentialing programs. And the recognition of skills certifications by companies has been disappointingly limited.

So the institute, which is the nonprofit workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, began a five-year effort to figure out what value workers are getting out of skills certifications.

Work Shift’s Elyse Ashburn looks at the results, which tapped data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the U.S. Census Bureau to study outcomes for people who were in college credit-bearing programs and earned at least one of the more commonly used certifications.

The Bad News: Just 41 percent of people who earned a manufacturing certification ended up in the industry. The odds of working in manufacturing were worse for workers who are Black (22 percent) and Latino (35 percent). 

“We have an extremely leaky pipeline,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. “In an industry that is frankly desperate for people right now, we can’t convert a majority of people who have self-selected into the field and earned a credential.”

The Good News: Among the 120K people who earned at least one entry-level certification during the dozen years before 2019, their average annual wage increased by roughly $15K. Workers also were more likely to remain in manufacturing or to move into the field after earning a certification.

Women, Black, and Latino workers had pay bumps that were on par with the average increase. The wage gains also held for workers who did not earn a degree—most did not. And older workers (age 46 to 60) on average fully recovered the sharp decline in their wages during the five years before they earned a certification.

Earnings also typically increased for certification completers who ended up not working in manufacturing.

“Just the decision to do something about your skill set, even if you don’t apply it in your next job, appears to change your trajectory,” Carrick says.

From Work Shift

Two Hispanic brothers wanted to go to college in Colorado. Here’s why only one made it.
Two Hispanic brothers wanted to go to college in Colorado. Here’s why only one made it.

The brothers saw higher education as a way into careers that would pay well and let them work hard with their minds, not their backs. But they ended up on different paths.

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Thanks for your readership and support. —PF

Skills and Automation

The National Association of Manufacturers is working with the clearinghouse to get more certification providers to report data on their credentials, including student outcomes. And the association has teamed up with Credly, a digital credentialing network, to make it easier for workers to signal their skills to employers.

Other players in manufacturing are also trying to get a better handle on skills and credentialing in the industry.

For example, a November report from Emsi Burning Glass looked at job roles in the manufacturing and construction industries, both of which are experiencing an accelerating digital transformation. The research was commissioned by Autodesk, a design and engineering software company that last year launched a certification program. The report covered the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. and included an analysis of the jobs, skills, certifications, and education that are most in demand.

Job postings in the two fields are shifting away from requiring a bachelor’s degree, the report found, often including no explicit education requirement. Yet at the same time, employers increasingly are looking for workers with sophisticated skills, including those related to data and management.

“Businesses are beginning to recognize that experience and competency are more critical than a formal education when it comes to finding the right talent,” says Rachel Sederberg, a senior economist for Emsi Burning Glass and the report’s author.

Automation is reshaping both industries. The report looked at construction and manufacturing roles that are at high risk of being eliminated, as well as possible career pivots for workers in these jobs.

For example, a quality inspector/technician has a good chance of some of their job functions being rendered unnecessary. But the skills needed for that job overlap substantially with those of a production supervisor, the report found. And learning a few supervisory and other skills can lower that worker’s risk of displacement while also increasing their pay.

The Kicker: “As these industries evolve, continuous learning through credentialing and certification programs and on-the-job training will remain paramount for showing job readiness and future-proofing résumés,” says Jaime Perkins, senior director of learning strategy at Autodesk.

Manufacturing Bootcamp

The manufacturing industry accounts for about 9 percent of all U.S. job vacancies—about 900K current openings. The shortfall could grow to as many as 2.1 million jobs by 2030.

In Florida, 384K workers are employed by the industry, with an average annual wage of roughly $74K. To help meet the high demand for entry-level manufacturing hires in greater Tampa Bay, the nonprofit AmSkills last year teamed up with 40 local employers to launch a career discovery bootcamp.

The free two-week program is aimed at workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic, as well as career changers and military veterans. It features hands-on experience and virtual reality simulations from TRANSFR, with mobile training facilities that travel to low-income areas.

“It’s hard to get your foot in the door when you’re trying to do something new,” one participant said in a video interview (below).

The program offers career assistance and guaranteed interviews with multiple companies. If hired, trainees also can work with a coach to help make the transition. So far, 113 people have gone through the bootcamp. About three quarters quickly landed jobs, including as an assembly technician at MicroLumen, a cable assembly worker at Lockeed Martin, and as a production and CNC operator at Chromalloy.

AmSkills plans to use a U.S. Department of Labor grant to double its bootcamp offerings next year, says Tom Mudano, the group’s CEO.

“These are good-paying, stable careers that offer a bridge to the workforce of the future for people from a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds,” he says.

Busy Days on Capitol Hill

It’s crunch time for the Build Back Better Act, the $1.8T social infrastructure bill passed last month by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill includes $40B in spending on workforce development and postsecondary education and training. But the U.S. Senate has its hands full with the stalled $768B defense bill and a possible government shutdown looming this weekend.

“There’s a whole lot going on,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education. “It’s a period of high anxiety and great uncertainty.”

Build Back Better was scaled back substantially from earlier versions, which featured a free community college plan. But it includes several big-ticket items for higher education, including $10B for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and a $550 annual increase to the maximum Pell Grant award for the next four years (which would not apply to for-profit colleges).

New America highlighted several items in the bill, including:

  • $1.2B for an updated version of the TAACCCT program, which during the Obama era provided grants to community colleges amid the Great Recession recovery.
  • $5B for community college and industry partnership grants that could be used to improve student transfer, to bolster student supports, or to purchase training equipment.
  • $1.5B over five years for youth workforce activities, including paid work experiences.
  • $1B over five years for adult employment and training, such as on-the-job training, career and support services, and individual training accounts.
  • $4.6B in discretionary WIOA grants to support sectoral and industry partnerships.

The bill “offers critical and historic investments for helping people get back to work,” says Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF. Key areas she pointed to in the legislation included:

  • $5B for the U.S. workforce development system’s career navigation, training, and support services for workers who are transitioning to new jobs.
  • $500M over seven years for emergency aid and other retention and completion grants aimed at helping college students complete.
  • $1B over five years for registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, one of several significant investments in apprenticeships.

The Kicker: “I hope to see the Senate act quickly on this legislation to help those hit hardest by the pandemic recover equitably,” Flynn says. “Also, as a former federal executive, I’m eager to see how the agencies plan on ensuring successful deployment of these funds to close equity gaps and drive the uptake of innovative approaches to service delivery.”

Open Tabs

Enrollment Woes

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released updated data on the high school class of 2020, which confirms an “unprecedented” drop in immediate college enrollment that was first reported in March. The findings show that the missing 2020 graduates did not enroll in college this fall, as some people had hoped. In fact, the percentage of students enrolling after a “gap year” declined.

Single Mothers

The Education Design Lab released a report about its multiyear project to improve completion rates for single mothers who attend community colleges. The nonprofit group also announced pilot programs at four community colleges, which seek to break down systemic barriers that single mothers face in pursuing their education and career goals.

Mystery Skills

Most organizations do not know the current skills of their workforces or what will be needed in the next few years, according to a recent global survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Among the 1,300 HR reps and executives who responded, 27 percent believe LinkedIn knows more about their workforces than their organizations do, and 39 percent said it’s easier for employees to find jobs externally than internally.

Politics and Hiring

Companies that take political positions on hot-button issues may take a hit in recruiting employees, according to a new study from the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. More than half (58 percent) of working professionals surveyed for the study said a potential employer’s political views were at least somewhat important.

Disengaged Learners

A new study profiled disengaged learners (age 20 to 34) who hold college credits but are no longer attending an institution. The University Professional and Continuing Education Association and StraighterLine found that 42 percent of the study’s respondents cited financial reasons for leaving college, with 32 percent saying they left for family or personal commitments.

Job Moves

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, which is located at Temple University, announced four senior hires this week:

  • Atif Qarni, a former Virginia secretary of education, as the center’s managing director for external affairs. 
  • Bryce McKibben, senior policy advisor to the Democratic leadership of the Senate HELP Committee, as senior director of policy and advocacy.
  • Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition, as senior director of policy and advocacy.
  • Mark Huelsman, director of policy and advocacy, formerly associate director of policy and research at Demos.

Let me know what I missed? Catch you next week. —@paulfain

A veteran higher education journalist and analyst, Paul focuses on the connections between education and the American workforce.