In order for the manufacturing sector to fulfill its potential for job creation and meet national needs, it will have to take on one of its most pressing challenges: racial and gender equity. Manufacturing companies need to recruit more than 2 million workers over the next decade to accommodate growth and to replace a rapidly aging workforce, but they cannot do this unless the sector increases the diversity among incoming workers by reducing racial and gender disparities in student and worker outcomes, particularly credential attainment and accessing quality jobs.

To achieve this ambitious workforce development goal, The Century Foundation (TCF) and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA) have been working in partnership with Lumina Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the ECMC Foundation to launch and expand the Industry and Inclusion program. The Industry and Inclusion program relies on robust industry partnerships and ecosystem-building along with customized recruitment techniques and a novel instructional approach—called impactful credentialing—that helps community colleges and other training providers embed culturally competent and trauma-informed practices within manufacturing education programming.

The Industry and Inclusion program arose out of roundtable discussions with stakeholders in manufacturing communities across the country. These conversations identified a new generation of projects and organizations connecting women and people of color into rebounding manufacturing career paths, which gave rise to a national plan, “9 Steps to Revitalize America’s Manufacturing Communities.1 To act on these opportunities, TCF and UMA partnered in an effort to scale these and other inclusive workforce development strategies in manufacturing via the Industry and Inclusion project. Project focus areas include:

  • recasting the narrative of manufacturing as a sector with career ladders, and raising its visibility as a viable career pathway in Black and Brown communities;
  • modernizing the approach to initial and lifelong manufacturing credentialing among educational institutions and partners;
  • increasing number of people enrolling in and completing these programs;
  • placing participants in quality jobs and providing support for lasting employment;
  • positioning community colleges and community organizations to develop programmatic models that can be matched to new federal funding opportunities;
  • creating an engaged network of industry partners interfacing directly with local community colleges and workforce training providers;
  • sharing findings and best practices between workforce practitioners, as well as connecting partners and stakeholders; and
  • providing assistance to cohort participants to create and improve their credentialing programs.

To date, the project has completed two cohorts and is preparing to launch a third, with each cohort representing an increase in participants and geographic scale. Cohort 1.0 focused on eight manufacturing training providers working at the community level.2 Cohort 2.0 involved twelve community colleges working at the metropolitan level.3 Cohort 3.0 (launching in fall 2023) will serve U.S. Department of Commerce economic development grant recipients in three manufacturing ecosystems (defined as the stakeholder network within a given manufacturing market).

As explained in the Industry and Inclusion project’s first report in 2021, “Industry and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Action“,4 which covered the key findings and associated recommendations from the first Industry and Inclusion cohort, manufacturing is a crucial driver of economic growth, technological advancement, and employment opportunities in the United States. President Biden, recognizing the potential of manufacturing as a powerful driver for inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, has focused on investments and policies that support communities of color, including workforce training and development programs that ensure historically marginalized communities have access to the skills and opportunities needed for success. Additionally, President Biden has advocated for increased access to capital and resources for minority-owned businesses, promoting entrepreneurship and fostering growth in an attempt to bridge economic disparities, creating more manufacturing jobs, and empowering communities of color across the nation to participate in decision-making processes.

To take full advantage of the Biden administration’s focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) in manufacturing, stakeholders across the country must first identify the range of factors that impede inclusive recovery. “A Blueprint for Action” highlighted the significant barriers that communities of color face in accessing opportunities within the manufacturing industry. The report delved into the lack of diversity in the workforce, the need for targeted training and skill development programs, and the importance of addressing systemic barriers that hinder education and employment within the sector.

The report’s recommendations for community members to address these challenges focused on creating racially conscious industry partnerships that facilitate continuous learning and development, while bearing in mind the deep impact of the industry’s legacy of racism. Recommendations for policymakers focused on ways to scale inclusive programs, such as reforming the Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act (WIOA), seeding new partnerships between critical manufacturing stakeholders, and leveraging the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Manufacturing USA networks to address racial barriers throughout the industry.5

This current report is being published as an addendum to “A Blueprint for Action” and builds on that report’s deep background, novel findings, and key recommendations, adding new learnings and policy guidance from the second program cohort—to supplement those covered in the original report.

Industry and Inclusion Cohort 2.0 Overview

The Industry and Inclusion project’s Cohort 2.0 was composed of twelve community colleges with robust manufacturing pathways located in areas serving communities of color.6 The cohort ran between February 2022 and August 2023. Colleges applied to become part of the cohort, and were selected based on institutional and leadership commitment to racial and gender equity in credentialing programs, demographics of the student body, and/or designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) or Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Half the participating colleges have this designation. During the cohort, each college met significant milestones in designing programs and partnerships that better serve students of color and women:

  • Bishop State Community College (Mobile, Alabama): Founded as an HBCU to promote opportunities for African-American teachers, Bishop State opened a new advanced manufacturing center during participation in the cohort. Through their Girls Learning About Manufacturing (GLAM) program, the college placed the first women of color in training programs with local industry partners.
  • Pima Community College (Tucson, Arizona): Pima is a national educational leader in industry partnerships and apprenticeships. The cohort learned about the transformative value of micro credentialing for adult learners from Pima’s leadership.7
  • Sierra College (Rocklin, California): An HSI, Sierra leveraged participation in the cohort to promote inclusive gender hiring in manufacturing, including women welding instructors. Reflections from students revealed the importance of having a women welding instructor, motivating several women to pursue manufacturing as a career. Read their profile here.8
  • Norco College (Norco, California): An HSI, Norco used a racial justice task force to conduct internal audits of their classroom climates and create action plans for developing an inclusive curriculum.
  • Community College of Denver (Denver, Colorado): Nationally, less than 4 percent of women are welders,9 but the Community College of Denver, an HSI, is increasing representation by employing women welding instructors and providing additional mentorship for women students. The college used manufacturing mixers to expose students to prospective employers, and manufacturing summer camps to provide early exposure for K–12 students.
  • College of Lake County (Grayslake, Illinois): The College of Lake County (CLC) is located in the second-largest manufacturing county in Illinois. Along with the opening of their advanced technology center, the college is using faculty and instructor diversity to attract a more diverse student body.
  • Ivy Tech Community College (Indianapolis, Indiana): With forty-four campuses across Indiana, Ivy Tech is a manufacturing education leader in the state. During the program the college partnered with local industry to provide tuition-free work-based learning opportunities for their students.
  • Hawkeye Community College (Waterloo, Iowa): Waterloo is one of the most diverse cities in Iowa and a center of manufacturing, yet communities of color are not represented in these industries. To increase inclusive representation, Hawkeye launched summer camps for youth—particularly Black youth—at their center for robotics and automation. They are also preparing to use faith-based outreach, and replicate the Ministers for Manufacturing program created by fellow cohort member, Manufacturing Renaissance.10
  • Forsyth Tech Community College (Winston–Salem, North Carolina): Forsyth Tech is a leader in creating pathways into advanced manufacturing fields through their Learn and Earn Apprenticeship Program (LEAP) and strong industry partnerships.11 They used participation in the cohort to increase representation of Latinx students in their manufacturing work-based learning programs.
  • Lorain County Community College (Elyria, Ohio): Building on an institution-wide commitment to equity, Lorain County Community College (LCCC) used participation to increase the number of students of color and women in their fast-track program, amplifying their collaboration with community based organizations, including MAGNET, and increasing the number of underrepresented role models for students in manufacturing.12 Read their industry roundtable profile here.13
  • Houston Community College (Houston, Texas): One of the largest HSIs in the country, Houston Community College (HCC) and its Center of Excellence in Smart Manufacturing are critical resources in serving local students of color seeking manufacturing careers. The college hosted the cohort’s national convening and worked with industry to set up a scholarship fund for its pipe valve fitting programs.14
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) apprenticeship programs have a track record of success in placing both high school and adult students in manufacturing, construction, and technical careers. During the program, MATC advanced equity goals in its manufacturing programs by nearly doubling the slots of students in their Uniquely Abled Program, which trains students on the autism spectrum as computer numerical control (CNC) operators.15

Findings and Recommendations from Cohort 2.0

The second Industry and Inclusion cohort confirmed the validity of the findings and recommendations from the first cohort, as well as identified four new areas for deeper learning and improvement: credentialing; recruitment and training; tuition costs and wraparound support; and work-based learning.


In today’s labor market the importance of attaining post-secondary credentials is becoming increasingly apparent. The benefits of credentials to holders and employers are well established, showing that post-secondary credential holders enjoy increased economic mobility, financial stability, and job satisfaction when compared to workers with only a high school diploma.16

Research from Lumina Foundation17 indicates that to power the nation’s economy more than 60 percent of adults will need a post-secondary credential of some sort. Since only one-third of Americans earn a four-year degree or higher, key stakeholders will need to work together to create robust non-degree pathways that ensure non-college-bound individuals are able to participate meaningfully and gainfully in the labor market.

Unfortunately, the credentialing landscape in the United States is arguably the most complex in the world. Credential Engine’s 2022 report, “Counting U.S. Secondary and Postsecondary Credentials” estimates students can choose from close to 1.1 million unique credentials offered by almost 60,000 providers, and clocks annual expenditures on credential delivery and attainment at over $2 billion.18

Not only is this credential ecosystem vast (and growing), but it lacks both organization and transparency. There is no uniformity in how credentials are categorized, and high inconsistency in whether they are accepted by industry and how they are valued in the labor market. As the credential marketplace grows, this situation is becoming increasingly confusing for students, credential providers, employers, policymakers, and regulatory agencies.

The lack of oversight and regulation of credentialing programs also exposes students to significant risk, as unscrupulous credential providers are able to market their programs deceptively,19 misleading students about the time commitment, cost, industry acceptance, additional requirements, and market value of the credential. Students of color are particularly vulnerable in this unregulated environment, as can be seen in case studies20 documenting the predatory practices of for-profit educational institutions.

This complex, chaotic situation is further complicated by the fact that many credentialing programs are eligible for federal support, including Pell grant and WIOA training dollars. Easy availability of federal funds can incentivize unscrupulous institutes of higher education—particularly for-profit institutions21—to engage in predatory and fraudulent practices, spotlighting the need for high performance standards and effective governance.


Cohort discussions confirmed the value of credentialing in helping colleges meet local industry needs and providing students with a recognized endorsement of their knowledge and skills. Accelerated credentialing programs are particularly popular and effective, especially when combined with free tuition. During an industry roundtable in February 2022, cohort member LCCC22 discussed demand for their fast-track credentials23 for adults, where students can take semester-long classes that lead to competitive jobs with family-sustaining wages, while supported by a mentor who oversees the job placement process. Tuition costs are covered by LCCC’s foundation, state, and local grants, helping the college serve low-income and students of color.

Practitioner Recommendations

A key focus for credential providers should be ensuring that potential students have the full range of information they need to make informed decisions about which credential(s) to pursue. The following suggestions will help ensure that can happen:

  • Create feedback loops with employers to ensure that education and training programs receive the information and guidance necessary to ensure credentialing programs cover current skills valued by industry.
  • Provide extensive transparency around the cost, time commitment, industry acceptance, and market value of all credentialing programs.
  • Many students build the skills associated with credentials outside credentialing pathways (for example, through on the job training). Requiring these students to take courses that teach subjects they have already learned just to earn the credential can place a large burden on individuals who are already qualified to perform the work. Credentialing organizations should provide ways to recognize skills and competencies already attained without requiring students to take/retake courses (for example, options for testing out of required classes, and so on).

Policy Recommendations

Policymakers should focus on strategies and investments geared toward the creation of a national credential marketplace defined by transparency and consistency. Key focal points include the following:

  • Create a national credential repository (possibly by adopting an existing approach)24 that caters to opportunity-seekers, providing comprehensive and clear information that allows users to easily compare different credentials, understand their market value, see which employers accept them, and map a related career. To help convey market value, policymakers should create and/or enhance systems for tracking credential enrollment, attainment, and subsequent earnings to properly value and describe credentials.
  • Implement tighter regulatory standards that will discourage and prevent credential providers from misleading students about key considerations, including cost, time commitment, requirements, employer acceptance, and market value. Standards should include accountability mechanisms, such as a private right of action, that would grant individuals the ability to seek legal remedy if misled by a credential provider.
  • Create and implement federal standards for WIOA-funded training programs that mirror regulations implementing Title IV of the Higher Education Act, including performance standards such as cohort default rate minimums, debt-to-earnings and earnings premium benchmarks, instructional spending requirements, and other key student and taxpayer protections that will ensure student time and federal funding are spent on programs with proven market value.
  • Exclude for-profit institutions, which have an established history of defrauding students and providing credentials with little to no market value, from eligibility for the proposed expansion of Pell grants for short-term programs.25

Recruitment and Training

A lack of robust and inclusive recruitment and training has been a major barrier to the creation of a diverse manufacturing workforce for decades. Manufacturing suffers from its poor reputation of being a dark, dirty, and dangerous place to work, an outcome of twentieth century industrialization, when jobs were defined by hazardous working conditions, labor-intensive processes, and low pay. While significant advancements have been made in modern manufacturing practices, including improved safety standards and environmental regulations, lingering stereotypes continue to shape public perception, hindering recruitment for training programs.

Advancements in technology and automation have revolutionized manufacturing processes, meaning the workforce requires high skill and training to operate and maintain sophisticated machinery and systems. Many of today’s jobs demand proficiency in a variety of areas that require post-secondary training, from computer programming to data analysis. As the industry continues to embrace digitalization and smart manufacturing practices, workers must continually upskill to adapt to new technologies and increasingly complex systems.

The challenge of a lack of robust and inclusive recruitment and training is even more pronounced for students of color and women, who face hurdles not experienced by their white, male peers. Lack of diversity throughout both the workforce and education systems causes a series of barriers beginning with outreach and engagement and extending through the job placement process.


During the cohort meetings, colleges reported that successfully and inclusively recruiting and training learners of color and women were some of the most pressing challenges they faced in the program. During roundtables, four core challenges were identified.

  1. Cohort members noted the poor reputation manufacturing has among students in general, but particularly learners of color. The history of de-industrialization26 and associated economic decline, which largely impacted communities of color, has deterred many people of color from pursuing manufacturing careers.
  2. A second challenge identified during discussions involved students of color and women feeling stereotyped and isolated in pathways where the majority of students were white males. Colleges noted the importance of engaging a critical mass of peers with similar race/ethnicity or gender identities in each cohort to help increase the chances students feel supported and included in their peer group, and lower attrition rates. Cohort colleges, such as Sierra, took additional steps such as hiring women welding instructors, for example, to provide mentorship and cultivate belonging for students.
  3. A third challenge was the lack of trauma-informed and inclusive education practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides six guiding principles27 to address cultural, gender, and historical issues, such as the trauma of racism, sexism, physical violence, and economic deprivation. Recruiting and training learners from diverse backgrounds therefore often requires meeting people where they are, recognizing and providing additional supports to people who may need it so that they can persist in the learning environment. It also means assuring learners that today’s training and employment pathway is safe and inclusive and will not compound past trauma.
  4. Lastly, cohort members noted that serving undocumented/DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students can be complex and difficult. Cohort colleges reported that even when students successfully completed pre-apprenticeship programs where they were introduced to prospective employers, they were denied employment based on their documentation status (especially when the companies were involved in federal contracts that prohibit the hiring of undocumented people).

Practitioner Recommendations

Community colleges should implement strategies proven to drive successful engagement, enrollment, and completion among learners of color. The cohort identified a range of activities as highly effective, recommending that programs should:

  • Partner with K–12 districts to introduce manufacturing careers early in the student experience.
  • Partner with diverse community-based organizations focused on serving communities of color to bolster and enhance recruitment techniques.
  • Hire additional personnel to help students through admissions paperwork and other administrative tasks that can be a high barrier to enrollment.
  • Train administrators, faculty, and staff in trauma-informed and inclusive education, emphasizing the complex role trauma, occupational segregation, and the history of racism and sexism plays, as well as demystifying historical notions of manufacturing and exposing students to the safe, automated, and clean environments in facilities. This additionally requires students seeing manufacturing as a vibrant career with defined pathways for mobility into management or leadership positions.
  • Hire career navigation specialists, who are particularly trained in working with employers in hiring undocumented and DACAmented students, to help undocumented and DACA students understand and take advantage of training options and be placed in good paying jobs
  • Hire diverse instructors, including people of color and women, to boost representation in the teaching workforce.
  • Create equity statements to prioritize the inclusion and success of historically marginalized students.
  • Create affinity groups and programs (including summer camps and bootcamps) that cater specifically to historically marginalized students, such as people of color and women.
  • Launch programs that close the digital divide by providing resources such as hardware and broadband access to students who cannot afford these critical learning resources (and will benefit from the flexibility provided by online classes).
  • Hire diverse instructors, including women and people of color, to help ensure that the learning environment is inclusive of and welcoming to all learners.

Policy Recommendations

Policymakers should focus on investments and strategies that bolster inclusive recruitment practices and learning environments in manufacturing programs. Specifically, they should:

  • Increase funding for programs designed to engage students with manufacturing technician pathways, including the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program; and the U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Education Program (NDEP).
  • Convert the Congressionally directed Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP) to an administrative program funded through the President’s Budget to ensure it is funded on an annual basis.
  • Bolster Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act28 guidelines to ensure that funding is used to support vulnerable individuals facing high barriers to training and employment, sector partnerships include community-based organizations that serve communities of color, and career pathways are aligned to the needs of local employers, ensuring students will emerge as competitive candidates in the local job market.

Tuition Costs and Wraparound Support

The rising cost of higher education has increased the need for federal financial aid, including college loans. Inflation, which rose to as high as 9.1 percent29 in 2022, caused the prices of basic resources like food and shelter to increase more than 13 percent. Students use loans for immediate financial relief with the hope that future credentials will provide enough income to repay their loans. As the cost of living continues to rise at rates outpacing inflation, many aspiring students find it increasingly challenging to afford post-secondary education. The burden of student loans has reached unprecedented levels, leaving students saddled with debt for decades after leaving school.

Students from historically marginalized communities30 are more likely to borrow money and leave postsecondary education with higher loan balances. For example, four years after leaving college, Black students with college loans owe 105 percent31 of the amount borrowed, while white students with college loans owe 73 percent of the amount borrowed. According to the Federal Reserve,32 factors that contribute to a student’s ability to repay college loans include credential completion rates, institution type, and wages for a given educational credential.

Earning disparities play a significant role in a student’s ability to repay college loans.33 Black and brown workers are paid $0.76 and $0.73 respectively for every $1.00 that a white worker is paid. Living on less, with more debt, explains why students from historically marginalized communities are significantly more likely to require subsidized wraparound services, such as child care, therapy, legal counsel, transportation, and meal stipends. Streamlined and unfettered access to these supports frequently means the difference between success and failure for vulnerable students pursuing higher education.


Cohort members reported that students of color and women of all races frequently faced significant barriers to completion due to underlying and systemic barriers, which hold participants back and contribute to low completion rates. Discussions highlighted four of the highest obstacles.

  1. Wraparound services, such as transportation, meal stipends, child care and other critical supports are foundational to having the assistance and resources to successfully complete a program. Unfortunately, funding for wraparound services is difficult to secure due to general underfunding of employment training programs and hesitation to provide this type of assistance on the part of WIOA boards and program administrators. Even when such funding is available, it can present a high administrative hurdle for prospective beneficiaries by requiring extensive paperwork and documentation.
  2. Many students of color faced a substantial “digital disadvantage” during the pivot to online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to the costly resources required for successful participation (computers or tablets, stable Internet, and so on) proves a significant hardship for many students.
  3. The cost of attendance—tuition fees, books, and personal expenses such as housing, food, and child care—constitute a high barrier to entry for many students. Many students don’t have the financial means to support themselves, even if tuition is covered, which leaves them with no option but to juggle learning with a full-time work schedule, or rely on costly student debt.]
  4. Student parents—who represent 22 percent of all students34—have experienced enrollment and completion declines due to the additional challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This poses a significant gender and racial equity problem, as the majority of student parents are people of color and/or women. Boosting enrollment and completion for student parents is a critical part of recovering from the national pandemic and bolstering participation in the manufacturing workforce, but doing so will require an orchestrated effort that brings policymakers and practitioners together to provide the range of supports (on-campus child care, child-friendly campus housing, and so on) that parents need to complete programming and transition to employment.

Practitioner Recommendations

Practitioners across the country have opportunities to expand wraparound services and resources to make meaningful change for students of color and women of all races, but can likely make the biggest difference by focusing on the following areas:

  • Document and uplift the role that robust wraparound services play in supporting student success, deliberately and explicitly refuting the false and harmful narrative that stipends and wraparound funds are misused by students and workforce training participants.
  • Work with community-based organizations and workforce programs to provide as many wraparound services for students as possible; ensure enrollment in these services is streamlined and the administrative barriers (such as the number of forms to be filled out, and so on) are low.
  • Ensure students are connected to enrollment specialists, financial aid representatives, and benefits coordinators who can provide comprehensive guidance on the range of services available, and help students enroll (SNAP, Medicaid, tax preparation, and so on).
  • Stand up campus-based Family Resource Centers to provide student parents with key support services, including access to on-campus child care, therapists, and social workers who can provide information on supports including food, housing, legal aid, and other resources.
  • Use a comprehensive and human-centered approach to course design, with attention to how learning fits into the student’s typical day. For example, students taking evening classes are typically commuting from a worksite to get to class. Hosting classes in community-based spaces with access to transportation hubs and accessible parking will reduce commuting barriers and anxiety associated with meeting the instructor’s expectations. Community-based spaces can include community colleges, high schools, employer sites, libraries, community centers, and social service partner sites.
  • Build opportunities for additional attempts and extended deadlines. Students often pursue training while trying to satisfy competing priorities such as work and family. This can leave them overscheduled, burnt out, and considering the option to drop out. Design programs with stop points, where students can opt-out with a plan to return. Planning a training schedule a few years forward would give students the information that is needed to make a plan that leads to program completion.
  • Match students with a career coach who is knowledgeable about the program structure, benefits, and alternative training paths that lead to the same career. The coach can serve as the connection point between students and the services designed to support their success. Providing a point person will reduce the time and effort that students use to navigate the completion of administrative tasks.

Policy Recommendations

Policymakers should use extensive research and data available proving the deep and long-term impact that robust wraparound services have on employment training participants to design and fund such services and, whenever possible, ensure access to higher education by eliminating tuition and fees. Key examples include:

  • Bolster WIOA and other employment training programs to include funding for robust wraparound services including child care, Internet access, laptops, transportation, and weekly stipends.
  • Expand Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS) funding or create a similar program that provides child care funding to Pell Grant–eligible parents enrolled in short-term noncredit training. CCAMPIS funding is made available to higher education institutions with campus-based child care centers, so they can subsidize the cost of child care for eligible students. Subsidies can cover up to 100 percent of the cost of child care for eligible students.
  • Expand affordable, high quality child care options nationwide, and ensure that student parents have simplified access, including providing funding for on-campus options in addition to CCAMPIS. Ensure that student parents eligible for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program receive support.
  • Expand the terms and conditions (T&Cs) in federal education and training programs covered by the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and Department of Education to mirror the Department of Health and Human Services T&Cs, which include extensive flexibility around spending on wraparound services and supports.
  • Eliminate community college tuition nationwide through the enactment of a federal–state partnership, such as President Biden’s America’s College Promise proposal, which would allow low-income students to commit their Pell Grant aid to living costs, transportation, and other essentials.35
  • Expand the Pell Grant to include eligibility for short-term (150–600 hours/eight to fifteen weeks) noncredit workforce training offered through community colleges (while implementing robust protections and guardrails.36 Furthermore, ensure legislation related to expanding the Pell Grant grants that allows students a minimum of three attempts to pass a course, instead of the 150 percent completion rule being considered, which counts students as completers only when they complete their program within a period equal to one and a half times the program’s planned length.37

Work-Based Learning

Work-based learning (WBL) is a critical component of manufacturing programs that bridges the gap between theoretical education provided in the classroom, and practical training provided in the workplace. WBL experiences such as registered or non-registered apprenticeships play a pivotal role in helping students learn the full range of skills they will need in industry and create a professional network that will help them find employment post-graduation.

Colleges find WBL programs to be particularly valuable because they help ensure that curriculum reflects current industry trends and requirements. It can be challenging to update approved curricula on a regular basis to keep pace with technological progress and expensive to provide students with the latest tools and equipment. Through WBL partnerships between trainers and employers, colleges can ensure students are graduating fully prepared for employment.

WBL also provides an effective tool for increasing equity and inclusivity in training and employment. WBL programs generally offer an affordable and reliable pathway for students that includes a post-secondary credential, work experience, and key employer contacts. Despite the value of these programs, they can be extremely challenging for colleges and companies to build as they frequently require extensive collaboration, planning, and compromise.


Cohort colleges reported that paid WBL is one of the more effective educational tools available to community colleges in that it both deepens learning outcomes and prepares students for employment, as well as provides a critical source of income.

The success of WBL was illustrated by several cohort members, including College of Lake County (CLC) in Grayslake, Illinois.38 CLC reported on their thriving apprenticeship program,39 which is based on an ecosystem model. From 2020 to 2022, CLC engaged ninety-three apprentices with thirty employers, holding a retention rate of 87 percent and a graduation rate of 92 percent. The program implements structured awareness activities, such as employer site visits in the summer and targeted recruitment of students of color in area high schools through collaborations with career navigation specialists. As a result of this ecosystem approach, Black and LatinX students are overrepresented as apprentices in comparison to the overall demographic makeup of the county, helping build the talent pipeline to address the underrepresentation of individuals of color in the workforce.

Despite these benefits, however, WBL programs can prove extremely difficult to launch and sustain. Colleges noted that aligning class schedules, students schedules, and company schedules can be a logistical challenge. Ensuring the wraparound services are integrated into the programs can prove complicated as well, as providing things like convenient child care can be difficult when students are studying onsite with industry partners instead of on campus. Lastly, students of color and women frequently face additional challenges in the form of racism or sexism in the workplace, which requires careful awareness-building and training to avoid and overcome within management structures.

Practitioner Recommendations

The real-world experience, practical training, and soft skills delivered by work-based learning are critical to helping students graduate prepared to succeed in manufacturing environments. To ensure that these programs meet their potential for impact and operate sustainably, practitioners should consider the following recommendations:

  • Invest in robust industry connections to create a dense network of employers that can participate in WBL programs.
  • Work creatively with industry partners and students to ensure that logistical considerations such as class timing and location meet student and employer needs.
  • Partner with American Job Centers and WIOA boards to launch WBL programs designed to give job training participants the hard skills they need to quickly join the industrial workforce.
  • Work closely with company leadership to ensure managers are prepared to manage, support, and mentor diverse students including individuals of color and women.

Policy Recommendations

State and federal support is key to expanding WBL throughout the country. These initiatives can be standalone efforts, or one strategy in a larger effort:

  • Authorize the National Apprenticeship Act of 2023,40 which would expand the original National Apprenticeship Act to include youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships and bolster labor standards.
  • Continue the Biden administration practice of braiding WBL into economic development and community investment programs administered by various agencies.


President Biden has made historic investments in manufacturing and workforce development to help revitalize the sector and create opportunities for communities of color. Through his Investing in America41 portfolio, the president has allocated substantial funds to support manufacturing innovation, research, development, and training.42 These investments have facilitated the adoption of advanced technologies, sustainability practices, and the expansion of training, apprenticeships, and educational initiatives aimed at equipping diverse workers with the skills required by modern manufacturing. These efforts are not only fostering job creation, but addressing economic disparities and promoting inclusive growth, particularly within historically marginalized communities and underserved populations.

Deep and sustained success growing and diversifying the country’s manufacturing workforce will require an unprecedented effort to engage historically marginalized communities who have been excluded from the manufacturing rebound. Doing so will involve re-designing recruitment, enrollment, and training programs to meet the needs of diverse students, and increasing the provision of robust wraparound services from weekly stipends to child care.

There is national support and enthusiasm for this initiative at the federal, state, and community levels, but success will require sustained commitment from practitioners and policymakers, and willingness to invest in new education, training, and workforce strategies. The Industry and Inclusion Cohort 2.0 members have demonstrated how much can be achieved through the use of inclusive approaches that engage and boost communities of color. With continued federal investment and support from policymakers, the country is poised to enact enduring, meaningful change.


  1. Andrew Stettner et al., “9 Steps to Revitalize America’s Manufacturing Communities,” The Century Foundation, May 8, 2019,
  2. See Andrew Stettner, Amanda Novello, Ronald C. Williams, Lee Wellington, and Katy Stanton, “Racial Equity and Advancing the Future of Manufacturing,” The Century Foundation, June 23, 2020,
  3. Michelle Burris, Tanu Kumar, and Andrew Stettner, “Community Colleges Collaborate to Advance Racial Equity in Manufacturing,” The Century Foundation, May 17, 2022,
  4. Andrew Stettner and Dr. Ronald C. Williams, “Industry and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Action,” The Century Foundation, June 22, 2021,
  5. See “Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP),” National Institutes of Science and Technology,; Manufacturing USA website,
  6. “Industry and Inclusion,” The Century Foundation,
  7. “How micro-pathways are transforming Pima Community College,” Education Design Lab, September 28, 2022,
  8. “Crosscutting Solutions for a More Inclusive Manufacturing Ecosystem,” Urban Manufacturing Alliance and The Century Foundation, September 2023,
  9. Adam Mason, “The Reason Why Women Belong In The Welding World Alongside Men,” Welding Pros, May 18, 2023,
  10. See “CMRC’s Ministers for Manufacturing: The Faith Community Plays A Key Role in Development,” Manufacturing Renaissance,
  11. See “LEAP: Learn & Earn Apprenticeship Program,” Forsyth Tech,
  12. See MAGNET website,
  13. “Building An Inclusive Manufacturing Sector in Northeast Ohio,” Urban Manufacturing Alliance and The Century Foundation, July 2023,
  14. See “PVF Roundtable donates $40,000 to HCC for student scholarships,” Houston Community College, March 25, 2022,
  15. See “Uniquely Abled Academy,” Milwaukee Area Technical College,
  16. See SHRM Foundation website,
  17. “Higher Education Attainment Data| Stronger Nation,” Lumina Foundation,
  18. “Counting U.S. Secondary and Postsecondary Credentials,” Credential Engine, December 2022,
  19. Meredith Kolodner and Sarah Butrymowicz, “Career-training companies scoop up federal funds with little oversight,” The Washington Post, February 25, 2023,
  20. Toby Merrill et al., “For-Profit Schools’ Predatory Practices and Students of Color: A Mission to Enroll Rather than Educate,” Harvard Law Review (blog), July 30, 2018,
  21. Robert Shireman, “The For-Profit College Story: Scandal, Regulate, Forget, Repeat,” The Century Foundation, January 24, 2017,
  22. See Lorain County Community College website,
  23. “Building An Inclusive Manufacturing Sector in Northeast Ohio,” Urban Manufacturing Alliance and The Century Foundation, July 2023,
  24. “Clear Pathways to Credentials,” Lumina Foundation,
  25. Wesley Whistle, “Online Short-Term Pell Could Open the Floodgates to Predatory Actors,” New America (blog), December 14, 2022,
  26. Gerald D. Taylor, “Unmade in America Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities,” Alliance for American Manufacturing, October 2016,
  27. “Infographic: 6 Guiding Principles To A Trauma-Informed Approach,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  28. H.R.803–Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, 113th Congress (2013-14),
  29. See “Consumer prices up 3.0 percent over the year ended June 2023,” TED: The Economics Daily, Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 17, 2023,
  30. Stephanie Hall, “The Students Funneled Into For-Profit Colleges,” The Century Foundation, May 11, 2021,
  31. See “Student Debt,” National Center for Education Statistics,
  32. “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019—May 2020,” Federal Reserve System,
  33. “Earnings Disparities by Race and Ethnicity,” U.S. Department of Labor,
  34. “Parents in College By the Numbers,” Ascend The Aspen Institute and Institute for Women’s Policy Research, April 2019,
  35. Peter Granville, “How America’s College Promise Would Reshape the Free College Landscape,” The Century Foundation, October 17, 2023,
  36. Robert Shireman, “Very-Short-Term Job Training Programs Need Strong Consumer Protections,” The Century Foundation, July 15, 2021,
  37. See “Graduation Rates,” National Center for Education Statistics,
  38. See College of Lake County website,
  39. See “Launching Apprenticeships,” College of Lake County,
  40. H.R. 2851–National Apprenticeship Act of 2023, 118th Congress, (2023-24),
  41. “Investing in America,” The White House,
  42. “FACT SHEET: Amidst Manufacturing Boom, President Biden Will Sign an Executive Order on Federal Research and Development in Support of Domestic Manufacturing and United States Jobs to Encourage “Invent it Here, Make it Here” in Industries of the Future,” The White House, July 28, 2023,