Urban Wire New competency-based frameworks can help fill the manufacturing skills gap
Alan D. Dodkowitz
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US manufacturing has thrived lately, employing 12.7 million people directly and more than 17 million indirectly, recovering more than 1 million jobs lost during the Great Recession. Increasing output and an aging workforce will lead to an estimated 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs between 2015 and 2025. But the skills gap means that 2 million of those jobs will likely go unfilled.

To help close this gap and place Americans in high-skilled, good-paying jobs, the US Department of Labor (DOL) has worked with the Urban Institute to develop competency-based frameworks to help employers train prospective workers in several industries, including manufacturing. With these frameworks, employers can implement apprenticeships that produce skilled workers who can help close the manufacturing skills gap.

Apprenticeships are key to closing this gap

Apprenticeships allow people to get on-the-job training along with classroom learning to earn credentials and certifications for a fruitful career without the high costs of a four-year college. Apprenticeships are the most cost-effective strategy for employers looking to upgrade employees’ skills and establish a highly trained workforce.

But the US lags many countries in the scale of its apprenticeship system, with apprenticeships covering only 0.3 percent of the workforce system—one-tenth of the coverage in Australia, Canada, and the UK. In the US, few employers offer apprenticeships, and not nearly enough train workers for future high-skill manufacturing jobs.

To remedy this problem, and building on the Obama administration’s initial efforts, President Trump signed an executive order last year to streamline federal efforts and increase the number of apprenticeships to 5 million over five years, double the Obama administration’s goal. The executive order also called for doubling (to $200 million) the funding for learn-to-earn programs. 

How new frameworks can address manufacturing needs

To address the shortage in advanced manufacturing jobs, the Urban Institute has created new competency-based frameworks for the following five occupations:

  1. Computer numerical controlled (CNC) setup programmer
  2. Industrial manufacturing technician
  3. Industrial maintenance technician
  4. Mechatronics installer
  5. Mechatronics technician

Job shortages in these manufacturing occupations are acute. More than 32,000 industrial maintenance technician jobs are expected to be created over the next eight years, CNC jobs are expected to increase 15 percent, and mechatronics jobs will grow nearly 10 percent. These jobs offer stackable credentials for employees to advance in their careers and offer good compensation, with many people in mechatronics earning more than $100,000 annually

These frameworks, which offer a standardized way for employers, unions, and schools to train apprentices in various industries, have been developed through extensive collaboration between the Urban Institute and academics, private industry leaders, and trade groups such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. 

Employers can use these frameworks to design and obtain approval for their apprenticeships, which can help close the skills gap and provide career pathways to thousands of workers.


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Research Areas Workforce
Tags Workforce development Labor force Work supports Beyond high school: education and training
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population