Approximately half of the 704 employers participating in a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace said they have trouble finding qualified college graduates to fill their companies’ positions. Yet, 68 percent of the survey’s manufacturers said colleges are doing a good job turning out employable students. What’s going on here? What does this mean?
Nowadays, there is no disguising the fact that a manufacturing employee must bring more than a good attitude into the workplace. Post-secondary education is essential. However, most employers (and not just manufacturers) say that qualified job applicants should also have work experience. Thirty-seven percent of the survey’s manufacturers said they would rather have employees with work experience than academic certifications (although 38 percent reported themselves as “neutral” to this question). We might assume that, given the number of “neutral” answers, manufacturers value both academic credentials and work experience, although the study states that the new unproven credentials like “digital badges” don’t carry much weight with them. So what does carry weight?
The single most important credential for recent college graduates to have on their resume is an internship, state the respondents. Yet too often, schools don’t provide internships or apprenticeships to help students get that critical experience employers demand. Like the old aphorism about fishing and independence, we are teaching our youth that fishing is important, but not how to fish. We need to give students some fishing experience, and not just in global corporations, but in small companies as well. As one might expect, the smallest companies in the survey (<50 employees) found it the most difficult to find qualified employees. Imagine how much improved that statistic might be if internships were made available to those small employers. The strength in internships lies not only in having job applicants learn workplace behaviors and norms, but in demonstrating how organizational culture and invention are cultivated (or not) in various business settings. A small company setting is ideal for learning innovative thinking.
NIST MEP, along with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers and its Manufacturing Institute, Industrial Strength Marketing, and the Discovery Channel, are producing Manufacturing Day on October 4th to showcase America’s advanced manufacturing workplaces. Manufacturers and educational institutions can host an open house, become a sponsor of Manufacturing Day, tell their story, and encourage parents, teachers, students, and their communities to see what today’s manufacturing looks like and to foster interest in manufacturing careers. Likewise, internships and mentorships are strongly encouraged among the participating schools and businesses.
To learn more about Manufacturing Day, visit the website or reach out to MEP’s Zara Brunner (zara.brunner [at] nist.gov (zara[dot]brunner[at]nist[dot]gov)) or Mark Schmit (mark.schmit [at] nist.gov (mark[dot]schmit[at]nist[dot]gov)) to see how to get involved. There’s no better way to build your future talent pipeline.