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In the Nation's Interest

Are Employers Using Credentials to the Fullest?: New Manufacturing Report Provides Insights

by Roy A. Swift August 22, 2018
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Do employers value credentials? Which do they see as a better predictor of success: credentials or experience? How can employers become more involved in making sure credentials meet their needs? A new Workcred report examining credential use in U.S. manufacturing reveals answers to these questions and discusses how credentialing can be improved to help employers keep pace with changing skill needs.

Like other industries critical to the strength of the U.S. economy, manufacturing is grappling with a skills mismatch. Nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs are expected to be needed over the next decade, yet 2 million positions are likely to go unfilled.This poses a significant workforce challenge for the nation. Credentials can play an important role in closing this mismatch, but employers can't use credentials effectively if they do not understand them. 

Funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Workcred's research study revealed that credentials have uneven use in the manufacturing sector and are not routinely required or used as a major factor in hiring or promotion decisions. Many of the employers surveyed did not know what credentials are available or how they are relevant. Many also did not perceive credentials as the most relevant tools to identify new skilled personnel or upskill their existing workforce, instead viewing experience and work-based learning as key variables influencing success in the workplace. The results of the study suggested that employers may be unable to find credentials that meet their needs either because they are unaware of them or because the credentials do not assess the relevant competencies.

While focused on U.S. manufacturing, the results and recommendations from the study have broader applicability for employers in general. To address the challenges employers have in finding appropriate credentials, it is clear that there needs to be greater understanding about the content, use, and value of credentials among various stakeholders. Employers can help by supporting efforts to increase transparency about credentials through systems that offer information to the public about what credentials are available and how they align with specific job requirements.

"The industry is growing so rapidly that what we do today, we may not be doing tomorrow. How do we keep our workforce up to date?"

- Large manufacturer, Midwest region

Workcred also sees the need to build stronger relationships between employers, education and training providers, and credentialing organizations. The more employers are involved in the developing credentials, the more those credentials will reflect the skills that employers deem important. When employers send clear signals about their competency requirements, education and training providers can develop appropriate curricula and credentialing organizations can create validated credentials that demonstrate that competencies have been properly measured and achieved.

From the results of the study, we also see compelling reasons for employers to promote more competency-based apprenticeships. Through a combination of on-the-job training and technical instruction, competency-based apprenticeships allow individuals to advance by demonstrating that they have the requisite skills and knowledge required and needed by the employer. This allows workers to speed time to productivity and reduces costs for the employer, a win for all.

Growing evidence suggests that the closer education is linked to real work experience, the better the outcome for the employer and employee alike. Employers should partner with educators to identify more opportunities for work-based learning. Students benefit from experiences to demonstrate situationally-appropriate workplace behaviors, and employability skills are often developed through repetitive work experiences. And since employability skills are learned through habituation, employers would benefit from working with educators and credentialing experts to embed credentials into the secondary education system that incorporate employability skills needed for workplace success.  

Examining the Quality, Market Value, and Effectiveness of Manufacturing Credentials in the United States is available as a free download on the Workcred website. I invite you to check it out, consider how the findings compare with your industry sector, and share it with other colleagues interested in workforce credentialing issues. Increasing the quality of credentials will help improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and performance of the U.S. labor market and the workforce. It is a vision that Workcred believes is within reach through partnerships and collaboration. Visit www.workcred.org to learn more.

Roy A. Swift, Ph.D., is Executive Director at Workcred.


[1] Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond. 2015. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/manufacturing/articles/boiling-point-the-skills-gap-in-us-manufacturing.html.

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