For the first time in decades, U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence. Billions of dollars are flowing into the sector as historic investments through the American Rescue Plan and CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Automation, customization, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are transforming work in the sector as part of what some are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As businesses prepare for this growth, they are contending with major workforce challenges, including an aging workforce and a potential shortfall of approximately two million manufacturing jobs by 2025. This is a moment to create a more diverse—and ultimately more inclusive—future for the manufacturing workforce, and meaningfully impact outcomes for communities of color and women. But without thoughtful community-led interventions, the opportunity could be lost.
Since 2020, The Century Foundation (TCF) and Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA) have convened practitioners to develop and implement more inclusive workforce models through the Industry and Inclusion (I&I) project. For the project’s first learning community, TCF and UMA selected a cohort of workforce development organizations to explore how to forge a more racially inclusive future for U.S. manufacturing. In the project’s second learning community, a cohort of twelve community colleges is exploring strategies to better support students of color and women in manufacturing credentialing programs.
These programs strive to go beyond industry credentials to not only provide industry-recognized skills, but also prepare students for upward career mobility and success—in any sector. This credentialing approach—called impactful credentialing—is grounded in the belief that diverse partnerships and inclusive approaches are needed to realize more equitable outcomes in the manufacturing workforce.
The impactful credentialing model pursues relationship-building as a key strategy and centers approaches that foster belongingness and equity for workers and communities, such as trauma-informed care, cultural competency, and racially conscious industry partnerships. The approaches in the model are well aligned, developed in collaboration with manufacturers and situated within a broader ecosystem of support partners. Achieving more impactful credentialing will require deeper partnerships between community colleges, manufacturers, unions, and community partners—an undertaking that will demand space, external assistance, and time.
Developing the Impactful Credentialing Model
In 2020, eight leading workforce development organizations were selected by TCF and UMA from a national open application and were chosen to represent different federally funded investments in manufacturing. Partner organizations in the original eight-member Industry and Inclusion cohort include Jane Addams Resource Corporation (Chicago); Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (Detroit); MAGNET (Cleveland); Manufacturing Renaissance (Chicago); Menomonee Valley Partners (Milwaukee); Manufacturing x Digital—MxD (Chicago); Northland Workforce Training Center (Buffalo); and WRTP/BIG STEP (Milwaukee). Through this effort, TCF has begun working with major corporations such as Siemens, SteadyApp, Miller Electric, Rexnord, Tesla, and Dow Chemical.
TCF delved deeply into these equity-based practitioners just as increased attention on racial issues rose in 2020. Informed by structured conversations with the organizations and roundtable conversations in each community, TCF and its academic advisor, Dr. Ron Williams of Coppin State University, published a model of impactful credentialing to undergird the Industry and Inclusion project’s future work. This model emphasizes:
- Trauma-informed approaches to ensure training and employment success: Trauma-informed approaches as the systematic and programmatic framework of addressing the holistic needs of each individual (academically, psychologically, and socio-emotionally). The cohort uses the six principles documented by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: (1) safety; (2) trustworthiness and transparency; (3) peer support; (4) collaboration and mutuality; (5) empowerment and choice; and (6) cultural, historical, and gender issues.
- Effective use of industry recognized credentials: Industry recognized credentials such as those from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC), and the American Welding Society (AWS) provide a pedagogical underpinning for large-scale programs, especially when training is combined with work-based learning.
- Development of racially conscious industry partnerships: Impactful programs rely on ongoing structured partnerships between employers and educational partners that ensure credentialing is aligned with local employer needs and explicitly foreground social justice and responsibility to the communities where they are operating.
- Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) engagement with employers to support belongingness among those who attain credentials: Impactful credentialing programs foster ongoing learning between employers and educational partners. This includes efforts by manufacturing employers to change their company culture and practices to foster belonging among diverse workers placed with them and existing workers seeking upward mobility.
- Targeted outreach and community partnerships: Impactful credentialing programs require ongoing and targeted recruitment of Black and Brown communities into manufacturing programs, including marketing campaigns and ongoing partnerships with faith leaders, community organizations, and K–12 partners.
The College Cohort
Community colleges have the unique scale needed to meet the needs of manufacturing companies seeking to fill two million jobs with properly trained workers, and so the Industry and Inclusion project was expanded in 2022 to select community colleges for its second cohort. Cohort selection started with a national scan of community colleges. The Industry and Inclusion team interviewed representatives from over eighty-five community colleges via Zoom regarding the history and functioning of their manufacturing programs, community and industry partnerships, and recruitment strategies for Black and Latino students. Of the national scan, forty-five community colleges submitted an application to the cohort and twelve were selected. Each community college receives technical assistance for their participation to be used toward diversity, equity, inclusion, and access initiatives in their manufacturing credentialing programs.
From February 2022 to September 2023, the cohort engaged in an originally designed curriculum with thematic approaches, including the changing technologies in the manufacturing industry and trauma-informed approaches in workforce development. Coaches helped colleges assess local industry for quality partners and increased the number of employer partners to address racial and gender inclusion, provided new mentoring and employee supports, offered work-based learning opportunities, and provided input into credentialing and curriculums.
Each community college was represented by a team of two to five colleagues. This included monthly meetings as a cohort, and individualized coaching meetings at least three times throughout the cohort. The overall goals of the cohort colleges included increasing enrollments and improving quality in credential programs. In total, the twelve cohort colleges enrolled nearly 3,000 students in manufacturing programs in bachelors, associates, or short-term credentials..
Who Is This Checklist For?
If you’re working at a community college that is seeking to improve its workforce programs and need some form of a benchmarking tool and looking to build a service delivery system beyond your doors, this checklist is for you. This checklist, developed in partnership with the twelve community colleges in the second I&I cohort, provides a guide for community colleges who are striving to implement impactful credentialing programs.
How to Use the Checklist
Collaboration is the best recommendation. The goal of the cohort was to bring together deans and faculty of community college manufacturing programs, directors of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, and employers to examine the systemic hurdles for participation equity and completion rates in manufacturing credentialing programs. To avoid working in silos, the members of the cohort worked collaboratively to determine the challenges that programs and students face. For example, there are barriers that directors of DEIA know about students, such as whether they were choosing between paying major household expenses and paying for tuition, and a manufacturing instructor knows if students had regular, unexcused absences that prevented them from passing courses.
Administrators and instructors at community college manufacturing training programs should similarly follow a collaborative approach in engaging with this checklist. Whether through roundtable discussions or convenings on campuses, the use of this checklist will be most effective when it is reviewed by a gathering of the most relevant stakeholders involved in program implementation, going through each section and assessing the best stakeholders to be accountable for strengthening program measures with equity in mind.
It is important to emphasize that having reliable data—ideally, baseline and current data on enrollment and completion trends—is also helpful for using the checklist. Course-specific data disaggregated by demographics is the most recommended. Utilizing data on enrollment and completion trends by course allows institutions to see which culturally appropriate courses are working, which faculty are implementing them well, and, since course offerings may vary by semester or year, course-level data can be more helpful than departmental level, as it allows institutions to see more nuanced findings when conducting their analyses.
Section 1. Does the program provide culturally responsive, trauma-informed teaching and supports?
Today, many adults seeking careers in manufacturing did not have the benefit of a safe, stable, supportive, high-quality elementary and secondary learning environment. As a result, millions of adults are not connected to career pathways and the future of work. Training programs first must be able to address the potential for a lack of confidence, a lack of a sense of belonging, and even a lack of basic education foundation among their participants if they are to be able to benefit from high-quality training programs.
Program In Action
Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC): Through their Uniquely Abled Academy (UAA) program, MATC is upskilling students on the autism spectrum to become computer numerical control (CNC) operators. MATC is utilizing student support personnel and training students in basic machine shops. MATC is rejecting stereotypes that students who are disabled or uniquely abled cannot be upskilled beyond remedial jobs and is instead paving career pathways for students from the disabled community. Since participating in the cohort, enrollment in the UAA program has increased.
Section 2. Is the program deploying credentials and training recognized by local industry partners?
The American Association of Community Colleges report that after graduation, 85 percent of degree earners stay in their local communities, joining the workforce, and contributing to their region’s economic development. Students having the foundational skills and training required of their local industry partners determines their employability and economic mobility. The cohort colleges relayed the importance of community colleges and local industry partners meeting regularly for credential alignment. This is important for curriculum development and to ensure students, primarily, economically disadvantaged, are not wasting tuition dollars on courses that may no longer be relevant to industry (or the industry may have compensated for that course). There is not a more prime time for industry alignment with emerging technology advancements and automation in manufacturing. The Biden Administration is also recognizing the importance of community college and industry partnerships, with the recent announcement of 31 regional technology hubs across the country, which will spur innovation and job creation, and requires the participation of higher education institutions, community colleges being one of them.
Program In Action
Hawkeye Community College: Hawkeye has the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, which offers career pathway and college transition services. Students receive personalized career advising and program navigation on deciding an educational path that best fits their interests, skills, and abilities. Students take career assessments, job shadowing, and listen to industry guest speakers. Students also work with a specialist to eliminate barriers with childcare, family, and transportation. Hawkeye has a large population of immigrant students and offers citizenship classes, and assistance verifying foreign credentials. Academic Career Education and College Transition Services at Hawkeye Community College provides opportunities that align with your local sector.
Section 3. Is the program leveraging strong local industry partnerships?
It’s very important to track the progress of learners as they engage with and enter employment in local industry. Tracking and reporting the progress of the learners as they transition from the world of learning to the world of work helps build relationships and trust between partners. Also, this data helps training programs make necessary adjustments to stay relevant in the workforce space.
Program In Action
Bishop State Community College: Bishop State uses a process of recruitment of students and engagement with their industry employers, particularly Alabama Power’s lineman training program. Previously, there were not any women participating in this training program, but through active recruitment and their Girls Learning About Manufacturing (GLAM) program, they have been able to place the first women, and first women of color in this program. Bishop State also used the opening of their recent advanced technology center to develop and sustain engagement with employers, students, and community colleges. Their center is helping to close workforce gaps and helping their industry partnerships meet DEIA goals. Their partners include VailRubber Works, Lenzing Fibers, and Alabama Power. Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center.
Section 4. Is the program providing inclusive classrooms?
Community college classrooms are increasingly becoming more racially and gender diverse to the extent that some community colleges are coining the term “new majority learners” to reflect students of color, formerly incarcerated, and first generation students, to name a few, as their highest enrollees. With changing demographics, community colleges must meet students where they are, ensure students have agency for creating their educational journeys, and ultimately, foster belongingness for students to continue matriculating, or enter the workforce with competitive compensation and quality jobs. There are several questions that community colleges must ask themselves when defining and implementing an inclusive education.
Program In Action
Sierra College: Sierra College continues to build an inclusive welding program through intentionally hiring women faculty. In an industry where only 6 percent of welders are women, having women trainers and learning environments that are free from gender harassment are promising for recruiting for women in the sector. Representation is only one positive component. The competitive wages in welding is also life-changing for women, particularly those who made career changes from fast food, service, and retail industries, where historically marginalized populations are overrepresented.
Section 5. How is the program recruiting women and people of color into manufacturing programs?
Approximately 70 percent of the workers in the manufacturing and green energy sectors are white males. U.S. manufacturing firms won’t be able to replace this aging workforce if it doesn’t begin recruiting a broader range of workers from a rapidly diversifying population base.
Program In Action
Lorain County Community College: Lorain County Community College continues a vibrant relationship with MAGNET, a community–embedded MEP in Ohio. MAGNET is a new facility housed in a predominantly African-American community with an “open space” paradigm where children can utilize the playground and high school students can participate in the Early College, Early Career Program (ECEC). Through partnerships with MAGNET, students in ECEC can further expound their manufacturing education at Lorain County Community College and have a career in Northeast Ohio’s top manufacturing industries.
Community college training programs need to continuously adapt to meet the ongoing global challenges of technological, economic, and environmental change. As part of this process, they must monitor the engagement and performance of all learners and have support ready for when it is needed.
This checklist was created to be an evolving tool to help community colleges continue to work toward using—and improving—the impactful credentialing model. This checklist should be used as a team tool that can help community colleges self-reflect through regularly checking in with students, instructors, program navigators, employers, and college leadership. There should always be a constant practice of self-reflection and ongoing support from the team to strive to be better and meet the needs of all learners.
It is hoped that this document expands how community college education programs could benefit from self-reflection and build on their own transformation efforts. It takes time to build a self-reflecting workforce program, but programs that keep the elements of this checklist in mind going forward will build stronger relationships with learners from all communities, because they will be relationships built on trust.