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Focus on the Workforce: Revolutionizing Manufacturing Educaction

Jennifer M. McNelly






Even in tough economic times, manufacturers report they cannot find workers with the right skills, at the right time, to remain competitive. Manufacturers need a consistent means of validating the knowledge and skills an applicant and/or employee possesses, because talent is the most important driver of business success. On March 4, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) announced the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System, a partnership between The Manufacturing Institute and nationally recognized certification partners: ACTNational Career Readiness Certificate, Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC), the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), American Welding Society (AWS) and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). By deploying the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System—which focuses on foundational skills required for success in entry-level jobs across all sectors in manufacturing—we can align industry-recognized skills certifications with both career and educational pathways for students, thus building the pipeline of qualified workers for the manufacturing economy.

The first release of the system focuses on core personal effectiveness skills, academic competencies, general workplace skills, and industry-wide technical skills required by employers in all sectors of manufacturing. The new system of skills certifications maps to both career pathways across the manufacturing economy and to educational pathways in postsecondary education. These pathways can be deployed through community colleges to provide students and transitioning workers with industry-recognized skills certifications that are education credentials with real value in the workplace.

Portable credentials are earned after receiving training in specific skills and can be carried from one position, or one state, to another. Credentialing comes in two forms: through obtaining a license or by obtaining a certificate or degree. Generally, an individual becomes certified or degreed through an education or training program, or by passing an exam or assessment. Professional certifications are awarded by professional bodies, organizations, or institutions of higher education.

The credentials gained through certification programs help strengthen an individual's ability to be mobile in the workforce and compete for higher-level jobs. Skills certifications can be mapped to career pathways throughout many sectors in the manufacturing economy and to educational pathways to help students who need to pick the right courses, transitioning workers who need to add new skills for new jobs, and current workers who need to upgrade skills in order to adapt to new technologies or business processes.

For employers, certifications ensure their workers have the skills required for jobs in manufacturing. Certification of individuals is an important tool for development and maintenance of the nation's workforce. Postsecondary programs of study that teach to these industryidentified skills and certification programs result in credentials with direct value in the marketplace. Skills certifications cut across all professions, and have been in common use for many years in certain manufacturing and industrial sectors. Well-designed certification systems play an important part in validating that the required knowledge and skills have been acquired and allow workers to be productive on "day one."

In 2005–2006, manufacturing industry representatives, in partnership with the US Department of Labor, identified the basic or core personal effectiveness skills, academic skills, general workplace skills, and cross-cutting manufacturing skills necessary for individuals to succeed in virtually all entry-level jobs in manufacturing. These core skills were identified as necessary across all sectors within manufacturing, e.g., aerospace, food processing, metalworking, energy including alternative (green) energy, chemical, machinery, plastics, automotive, computer and electronics, pharmaceutical, and transportation and logistics. The industry attested that individuals possessing these core skills were basically prepared for the technical workforce essential to the success of every sector in the manufacturing economy. Additionally, these skills clearly could be gained in postsecondary educational programs, primarily in community colleges, in both associate degree programs of study and industry-recognized skills certification programs. In 2009, the US Department of Labor is planning to update the competency model for additional skills and competencies. This certification system will take into account any additions or changes once they are identified.

A skilled, high-performance workforce is key to manufacturers' ability to compete in the global economy. Every American can and should have the chance to get ahead and succeed in high-quality, middle-class jobs in the 21st century economy.

The partner organizations will work together in 2009 to develop a work plan promoting the certifications of each partner organization, and will look to add additional certifications in the future.

For additional information, you may contact The Manufacturing Institute at, by telephone at 202.637.3426, or via E-mail at


This article was first published in the April 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 4/1/2009

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