In Strong U.S. Economy, Credentialing and Training Programs in Manufacturing Are Crucial

Owing much to President Donald Trump’s stewardship, the U.S. economy is about the strongest it has ever been. The American worker has been the primary beneficiary of economic growth. Since his election, the president has created 5.3 million jobs. The unemployment rate is getting as low as it can go at 3.7 percent, according to June’s job numbers, and job growth continues in an upward trend. Today, there are more job openings than Americans looking for work.

 What more could a president do with such strong economic performance?

 The answer by the Trump administration has been to revitalize the private sector’s commitment to the American worker. A year ago, Trump called business leaders to the White House and asked them to sign a pledge that promises more growth and opportunities for America’s workers. For IPC, which represents the electronics manufacturing sector, we committed to creating one million workforce training opportunities over five years.

A year later, we are celebrating the early success of the president’s pledge. This week, acting SBA Administrator Chris Pilkerton traveled to the upper peninsula of Michigan to meet with Calumet Electronics — one of only 200 remaining printed circuit board manufacturers in North America. The company is committed to U.S. manufacturing and understands that its workers are its greatest asset. Calumet is growing its workforce and its training programs to provide long-term career paths for workers and early-career engineers.

Manufacturing growth isn’t happening just at Calumet Electronics but around the country. Since the pledge, the U.S. manufacturing unemployment rate in the computers and electronics industry was at one of its highest peaks at 4.8 percent. Today, it’s 1 percent.

While we recognize these laudable achievements, there is plenty more to do for U.S. workers.

Manufacturing is a quickly evolving technological field, and we must have a U.S. workforce that’s ready to meet these advancements and plan for a future where we don’t know what the jobs will be.

In today’s advanced manufacturing facilities, workers have less interaction with manual tools and greater reliance on computer-managed machinery. More and more, low-skilled jobs will be replaced by automation as companies try to keep pace with overseas competitors on costs and efficiencies. This trend has been happening since 1991, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, which reports, “U.S. output in manufacturing has grown by more than 60 percent, while employment in the industry has shrunk by almost 30 percent.”

That’s why it’s imperative employers and organizations help upskill and train workers to work alongside machines.

To solve today’s and tomorrow’s workforce challenges, we need to accelerate the growth of those programs that are most closely aligned with the workplace needs: industry credentialing programs. Within electronics manufacturing, we have seen that industry credentials are as valuable — and in some cases, more valuable than high school or college diplomas because industry credentialing programs reflect the needs of employers. Workers who obtain credentials are more likely to secure work and be successful in their new positions.  

To ensure credentialing programs match industry needs, IPC has implemented a jobs task analysis (JTA), which identifies the core competencies and skillsets needed to perform every role in the industry. Our skills audit reveals that too often, today’s manufacturing workers lack essential knowledge and skills, including a foundation in math, basic technology and problem-solving. By knowing the traits needed for workers’ success, we can make changes to our credentialing program which now serve over 100,000 individuals a year and receives input from leading electronics companies, like L3, General Electric, Raytheon and TTM.

If we follow the model of Calumet Electronics and organizations begin to develop job task analysis for their credentialing programs, each business, worker and the U.S. economy will be able to shine against all the odds.

John Mitchell is president and CEO of IPC, a global trade association, which represents the electronics industry.

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