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Career Readiness: How Manufacturers Measure Readiness and Additional Training Needs

There are more than 12 million manufacturing workers in America, making up about 9 percent of the workforce and earning $26 per hour on average. Within this field, advanced manufacturing is a high-wage, high-growth industry that comprises occupations in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products and provides high-, medium-, and low-skill opportunities for workers. Over the next 10 years, an additional 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, but 2 million are projected to go unfilled because of gaps in skills. Career and technical education (CTE) can help fill these gaps, but educators need help understanding how to measure student readiness for advanced manufacturing careers.

As part of our ongoing focus to support workforce development and career education, CNA recently released Manufacturing a Way to Career Readiness and is continuing to release a series of products that examine how advanced manufacturers measure entry-level job applicants’ career readiness and continued training needs. By interviewing representatives from leading manufacturers—including Catalent Pharma Solutions, Ford Motor Company, Roll Forming Aerospace, and Toyota Motor North America—and reviewing professional literature, we developed a report, graphics, and video about how educators and industry can work together to more efficiently and effectively help students transition to careers.

Our main findings included the following:

  • Career readiness encompasses three layers: foundational readiness, broad industry readiness, and job-specific occupational readiness. Currently, manufacturers focus on applicants’ foundational readiness.
  • Manufacturers were not familiar with common career readiness assessments used in education systems, including WorkKeys, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and state-specific exams. As one human resources director in the manufacturing field explained, "Testing might not meet true demand of the workforce"; at the same time, however, by not using testing, "employers are likely missing out on valuable assessment tools that will impact our business."
  • Manufacturers typically do not require credentials and certifications for two reasons: 1) the credentialing system is complicated and unreliable, and 2) manufacturers prefer to control employee technical training. Manufacturers use their own readiness measures, which include observations of performance-based tasks and math tests to capture academic knowledge.

The information from the interviews and professional literature led to a dozen implications and recommendations for streamlining our nation’s workforce pipeline. Highlights include the following:

  • Education, industry, and research partners must collaborate to align career readiness definitions and assessments, especially around foundational skills.
  • Educators should inform manufacturers about measures used to determine career readiness.
  • Manufacturers should explore additional education partnerships and internship-style programs to become more engaged in the education system.
  • All partners should continue to study and reform credentialing approaches to support accredited programs.

As an executive at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said, "Employers may not have a choice but to get involved in this type of conversation. The numbers game says they need to be more involved." The results should inform decisions about assessment and curriculum for educators and employers by bringing industry’s perspective to bear on a pressing national issue. See our full report and summary at: www.cna.org/centers/ipr/education/career-readiness.

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