Training programs coming to fill skills gap

After years of erosion, manufacturing employment appears to be posting slow but steady increases, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

The economy added more than 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in the last quarter of 2013, with most of them in durable goods such as wood and fabricated metal products, motor vehicle parts and furniture. Food manufacturing also posted large gains.

Recognizing that production often costs more in the United States than overseas – with labor a significant part of that differential – the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has a goal of helping American manufacturing regain its competitive edge with the right training.

As many as 600,000 industry jobs are presently open due to a so-called “skills gap.” Because manufacturing jobs generally pay more – an average of $17,000 more per worker in salary and benefits in 2012 – just filling those jobs would provide a significant boost to the economy.

Where are those gaps? Three of four companies are struggling to find the right employees, and 88 percent of those cite a skills gap as one of the primary factors, according to a 2013 survey by the manufacturing association.

Positions that remain unfilled include CAD operators, programmers, engineers and skilled trades such as welders, electricians and pipefitters. Many open positions are on the higher end of the skills and salary scale, making them desirable career paths, especially for young people.

Regarding “open-skilled” production jobs, companies reported applicants have inadequate reading, writing, communications and math skills.

Poor work ethic and lack of technical skills were also top deficiencies. In tandem, turnover is high in entry-level positions, with one company reporting that fewer than one employee in three new hires is retained.

Churning through employees is expensive in terms of training and also affects productivity and output. The majority of companies are coping by adding to the workload of present employees, which contributes to stress and burnout.

Only 55 percent of companies surveyed are partnering with educational institutions to collaborate on workforce development. Through a coordinated approach to “nationally portable, industry-recognized skill credentials,” skill gaps can be effectively addressed, NAM says. The association has built a stacked set of certificates and tests to build employee abilities from the ground up.

The first layer is made up of foundation skills that can apply to jobs in any industry. The association is working with ACT college readiness assessment to offer the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC).

The certificate program tests critical thinking by using reading and math to reason out workplace problems. Testing can be offered to present employees or job seekers as part of screening.

The NCRC Plus certificate adds testing in teamwork, discipline, customer service and managerial potential for the next level of workplace readiness. Training or evaluation built around NCRC Plus could address employers’ perennial concerns about work ethic, punctuality and teamwork, important necessities for any position.

The next level of education addresses “cross-cutting” manufacturing skills that are useful in most industries. This approach was developed by the manufacturing association to ensure a baseline of manufacturing abilities transferable to different industries and companies. Employees also benefit from being proficient in skills required for different job openings.

Administered by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), the Certified Production Technician (CPT) certificate consists of five subject areas. They include safety, quality, production processes, maintenance awareness and green production. The green unit is not required for certification.

Once employees have mastered the basics, they can access higher-level technical certifications through NAM’s partnership with the Manufacturing Institute and a number of organizations. These certifications include:

  • Fifty-two machining and metalworking credentials offered by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills
  • Certification offered by the American Welding Society
  • Certified Automation Professional and Technician certifications offered by the International Society of Automation
  • Fifty-five construction and maintenance areas certified by National Center for Construction Education and Research
  • Certifications in lean manufacturing and advanced manufacturing skills by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers

A complete list can be found on the Manufacturing Institute website, at

In addition to skills credentialing, the retraining of veterans and military personnel is another program of the National Manufacturer’s Association, with an expanded focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels of the educational system.