May 20

Industry Certifications – Pathway to Build Skills of American Adult Workforce

Is it time to reskill or up-skill the American adult workforce?  An October 2013, report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) finds a large population of adults in the United States with low skills (Time for the US to Reskill?).  In response, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) is now developing a national plan to improve adult skills, one goal of which is to enable adults to “pursue specific occupations and credentials more rapidly.”

Having worked in the trenches of adult skills credentialing in advanced manufacturing and logistics (M&L) for the past 14 years, the nationwide Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) can confirm the value of industry credentials for adult populations.  Over half of the participants in MSSC’s certification programs are between the ages of 21 and 40, and over three-quarters have either a high school diploma or some college education but no post-secondary degree.  Another validation of this OCTAE goal is the rapid growth of both academic and industry certification programs. 

A June 2012, Georgetown University Report, “Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees”, showed that the number of post-secondary academic certification programs has increased dramatically in the past two decades with certified individuals having greater earning potential than their non-certified, non-degree counterparts.  This report concludes, “Certificates with economic value are cost effective, partly because they are the quickest education and job training awards offered by American higher education.”  

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report in January 2014, “Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials: 2012”, which shows that 46.3 million adults in the U.S. hold a professional certification or license, and 19.1 million hold an educational certificate.  The report also shows that individuals who hold this type of credential earn about 26% more per month than their non-credentialed counterparts. 

The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have taken steps to increase adult access to industry certification programs.  Since 2005, both agencies have included industry certification requirements in solicitations for workforce training grant applications. 

One of the OCTAE goals is to enhance foundational skills such as reading and math to enable adults to secure credentials in high-demand occupations more rapidly.  This is also on the right track.  Evidence continually shows that once adults have achieved a higher level of work readiness skills that are broadly applicable to any industry, they have more success in learning industry-specific credentials. 

In a recent ACT-MSSC case study, we identified a strong correlation between success on ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificates (which measures reading for information, locating information and occupational math) and success in earning an MSSC credential.

High-stakes industry credentials, that are third-party validated, provide adults not only with greater employment opportunity, but also open the doors to higher education.  For example, a veteran training program in Cincinnati is showing that 71% of vets with a MSSC Certified Production Technician (CPT) Certification secured employment, but an added 19%  went on to higher education—a 90% success rate.    

The U.S. has begun to experience a manufacturing resurgence with both U.S. and foreign multinational production facilities returning to our shores—and manufacturing jobs increasing.  In order to ensure that this trend continues, we must increase opportunities for adults to up-skill through industry certification programs.

-Leo Reddy, Chairman & CEO
Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC)



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