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How To Fish

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.[1]  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.[2]  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] (zara[dot]brunner[at]nist[dot]gov)) or Mark Schmit (mark.schmit [at] (mark[dot]schmit[at]nist[dot]gov)) to see how to get involved.  There’s no better way to build your future talent pipeline.

[1] The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions.  December 2012.
[2] Ibid.

About the author

Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce...

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I think education needs to combine colleges of teaching and students must be more well rounded in achieving higher levels of knowledge that can be applied directly. Getting a liberal arts degree, bachelor of art and science would bring a more rounded student to the fold and this may take more hours to achieve. Generally a student with an associates degree and no directly applicable skills is no further along than a high school degreee which I believe students should achieve living at home and working learning how to balance it all as part of the learning experience. Bachelors degree should include internships and life application of their learned theories and expectations of a starting to work salary while they find their way to their passions. Their passions should be taught alongside understanding how applicable they are to current markets and changing markets as they become available. Masters degrees should entail bringing more to the table and "earning their keep" within an organization. How to find new information to keep their employer progressing and them as a profitable employee for their employer. Until they get to a doctorate where they will teach while they work and then bring wisdom to the young when they retire from their chosen life areas of strength and experience to pass on to the next generation.. K-12 should be about fundamentals for a foundation (standards) then exposure to industry and application in what they learn. They need to be prepared to be ready and sustainably employable in a fast and dynamic world where technology will change faster and faster as time goes on. They need to be ready for the world's reality not only to regurgitate what someone told them. They need to be creative enough to propel us forward. Yes schools are pumping out students who are employable but not necessarily the students who have skills and knowledge needed. And students need to realize they have to start somewhere at a salary that will nurture their spirit and sense of purpose in life for a sustainable future job in what they find they love and are strong.
I couldn't agree more with the importance of internships! The internship I had my senior year in college opened so many doors for me, and eventually led to a 3 year opportunity abroad. It was with a small manufacturing company and it gave me exposure to a variety of work responsibilities, departments and people.
I do believe organizations are having difficulty finding candidates based on the criteria they have established. I also believe organizations may not have a true understanding of what they are asking for in a candidate to fulfill the organizational needs. I post an opening, I request "the world" in my requirements....I do not receive candidates that are meeting my needs. Imagine that. In addition a lot of organizations have stopped partnering with educational institutions for internships (a lot do to cost, slow down in work, etc.). I would venture to say that organizations still actively partnering for internships are likely finding future candidates from those internships. Those that do not, or have stopped partnering for interships are likely having a more difficult time. In the end it is still the organization's responsibility to appropriately provide resources to promote knowledge and skills to plan for future success. Internally this is a given, but the message may be that organizations need to invest externally also.

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