Closing this skills gap formed the heart of discussions at the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) Joint Member Forum (JMF), held on March 20 as part of the Institute's annual spring member meetings. The meeting focused on the range of activities underway aimed at helping the nation meet President Obama's goal of doubling the credentials of the American workforce by 2020, enhancing the credentialing of personnel, and supporting secondary and postsecondary career pathways.
David Hart, assistant director for innovation policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President, opened the first panel of the day by taking participants through an in-depth look at the initiatives underway within the Obama administration to close the skills gap in the American labor market. Citing advanced manufacturing as a top administration science and technology priority, Mr. Hart underscored the role of education and workforce development in fueling innovation in manufacturing. Innovation is about getting science and technology into practice, Mr. Hart said, and nowhere is that more relevant than in the manufacturing sector where knowing "how" outweighs knowing "what."
He highlighted several Obama administration initiatives, including Educate to Innovate, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and Skills for America's Future - an initiative led by ANSI member and accredited standards developer the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and its affiliate The Manufacturing Institute to credential 500,000 community college students with skills certifications aligned to manufacturers' hiring needs. The NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System provides students the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials that will travel across state lines, be valued by a range of employers, and improve earning power.
How do we know that the degrees and certificates student are pursuing are the ones they will be able to use in new jobs? Are we producing degrees that provide the greatest chance of yielding the most benefit? These are among the questions posed by Mary Jo Waits, director of the Economic, Human Services and Workforce Division at the National Governors Association.
Degrees that do not fit the job market will not lift the economy, Ms. Waits warned. She stressed the importance of efforts that create new, good paying jobs in the economy and making workers - both current and future - ready for those jobs. To do this, Ms. Waits noted the need to set clear expectations for higher education's role in economic development, leverage labor market data to define priorities, encourage employers' input in higher education, and emphasize performance as an essential factor in funding.
Jennifer Schramm, manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting Program at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), highlighted labor market data trends over the last seven years. According to a recent SHRM survey, more than half of responding organizations reported having a difficult time recruiting for specific jobs, particularly in the field of engineering. According to Ms. Schramm, a lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills were among the top challenges cited by surveyed organizations. Standards, Ms. Schramm noted, are a key part of addressing these skills gaps because they address a certain level of knowledge in specific sectors. A SHRM survey on the role of credentials will be circulated soon, which will help to show job seekers what credentials are in demand.
Opening the second panel, Keith Bird, Ph.D., senior policy fellow for workforce and postsecondary education at the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, highlighted the efforts of AMTEC (the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative) - a collaboration of community colleges and auto industry partners working to create an innovative, responsive, and standards-based workforce education development system to strengthen the competency of the automotive workforce and meet industry skill requirements.
An ANSI Board Member and former chancellor of the Kentucky Community College System, Dr. Bird emphasized the importance of moving from a "credit-based" educational approach to a "competency -based" framework. A stronger commitment to industry-recognized credentials and a system of common standards that supports them is critical to strengthening the American labor market, Dr. Bird noted. A competency-based credentialing system can reduce employer search and transaction costs, increase job security and portability, and help ensure competitive, quality jobs.
On credentialing in the energy industry, Valerie Taylor, educational consultant at the Center for Energy Workforce Development, highlighted the value of an ANSI-accredited Energy Industry Fundamentals Certificate to the industry. This credential, Ms. Taylor noted, helps to make occupation-specific training more meaningful, and enables students to understand how individual companies and jobs fit into the big picture. She also spoke about various career awareness programs and bootcamps aimed at jumpstarting skills in areas such as mathematics and employability.
In his presentation, Brent Weil, senior director for education and workforce at The Manufacturing Institute, discussed pathways to competency-based credentials in manufacturing. More than 400,000 manufacturing jobs were added in the last two years suggesting a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing, and yet 82% of manufacturers report a moderate or serious skills gap in skilled production. Manufacturing jobs require high skilled individuals, Mr. Weil stated, and manufacturers need workforce strategies. He outlined the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System, which aligns certifications and education pathways with market demand to support competency-based customized education and training.