Industry Market Trends

Initiative Spotlight Series: The Manufacturing Institute's M-List

Jun 24, 2013

In continuing IMT Career Journal's new series highlighting initiatives to help the U.S. manufacturing sector create good jobs, we look at the Manufacturing Institute's M-List, which recognizes academic institutions that are teaching manufacturing students according to industry standards. Specifically, these institutions offer students the opportunity to learn skills and earn credentials endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

As manufacturing technology has evolved, so too have the skills necessary to deploy it. Yet even as various stakeholders - including manufacturers, policymakers, and academic institutions - take steps to increase the output of industrial talent from the nation's colleges and universities, approximately 84 percent of manufacturers today believe the U.S. school system is doing an inadequate job of preparing students for manufacturing employment, according to the Manufacturing Institute, the research arm of NAM.

A large part of the problem is the disconnect between what is taught in post-secondary courses and the skills required by employers in the various manufacturing industries.

A new designation, called the M-List, helps connect employers and students to an environment that develops skilled welders, machinists, production workers, and other key positions. The list enables manufacturers to find schools that develop and produce certified workers eligible for the jobs they need to fill, and also informs individuals where to get the training and certifications they need to enter into and advance in manufacturing jobs.

The Manufacturing Institute recently announced the charter members of the M-List to recognize excellence in manufacturing education. M-List members are high schools, community colleges, technical schools, and universities that are preparing students to industry standards in advanced manufacturing, with students earning credentials that are in the NAM-endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System.

The system consists of "stackable" credentials, meaning they build on a foundation of basic academic and workplace requirements, followed by cross-cutting technical competencies and then more specialized, occupational-specific skills, which can apply to all manufacturing sectors.

Areas currently covered by the Skills Certification System include machining and metalworking,  welding, automation, construction, ?fabrication, fluid power, ?lean, ?and transportation, distribution, and logistics, among others. The organization is currently developing certification pathways for two additional sectors: aviation/aerospace and bioscience.

This system of nationally portable, industry-recognized credentials aims to validate both the "book smarts" and the "street smarts" needed by employment candidates to be productive and successful on the job.

The Manufacturing Institute states: "When used in conjunction with other criteria, such as references, interviews, and assessment of prior work experience, industry certifications validate an applicant's readiness for work in advanced manufacturing. Industry standards and certifications can also be used to upgrade and hone the skills of current employees to meet the changing demands of new technologies and processes. The result is a professional, technical workforce that drives productivity improvements, capacity for innovation, and improved company performance."

To have a significant impact on the skills gap that manufacturers currently face, the Manufacturing Institute's goal is to issue more than 500,000 certifications by the end of 2016.

"With such a trusted standard, it takes the guesswork out of hiring the welders, machinists, production workers, and other key positions that make manufacturing hum," an announcement of the M-List charter members states.

M-List members have arranged their manufacturing coursework around industry standards and aim to assure students that the certifications and credentials they earn are relevant for success in the workplace.

To qualify for the M-List, academic institutions must meet the following three criteria:

1)    Deliver a manufacturing-related program that includes at least one NAM-endorsed technical certification as "a standard, embedded component of the program" and allow students to advance in or into a for-credit academic pathway;

2)    Agree to the Manufacturers Endorsed Education Alliance's Statement of Principles and pledge to work to build a robust system of certifications to serve the skilled workforce needs of manufacturers in their community; and

3)    Maintain accreditation by an agency or association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The value of a network of qualifying schools is multipronged, as it will: help locate a potential of industrial workers certified to industry standards; identify school that are training to industry standards; and provide recognition for academic institutions that are both adapting to change and eager to work with manufacturing businesses.

So far, 42 academic institutions in 18 states nationwide are recognized on the list, with most states represented having only one school that have met the requirements. Of the states currently represented on the M-List, Florida has more schools (11) than any other, followed by North Carolina (7).

"The Florida College System is getting students ready to compete and excel in the workforce," Nancy Stephens, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, said in a statement. "Florida is poised to be the [number-one] manufacturing state in the nation and the FCS will play an important role in filling our need for talent in high-tech, high-wage advanced manufacturing jobs."

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) is one of the charter members of the M-List, having earned its membership through the public college's alignment of affordable short-term training in partnership with manufacturing employers with national industry certification that can be applied toward a degree.

For the last two years, SCF has collaborated with local workforce agencies and state and community colleges on the Engineering Technology and Advanced Manufacturing grant project to provide manufacturing education and training to local entry-level and highly skilled workers, providing the opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills while earning certifications and college credits to expand future career opportunities. SCF also partnered with a local nonprofit to provide Florida Ready to Work credentials to unemployed and underemployed workers in the manufacturing industry. More than 200 participants have completed a training program through the grant project.

Some M-List members also offer an accelerated version of the skills system called Right Skills Now, which serves as a means of fast-tracking talent innovation to ensure that manufacturers have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs.

In light of rising global competition, today's manufacturers have come to recognize the need to agree on a common understanding of the entry-level and technician-level skills they require to remain competitive - from the production floor to the design studio to the C-suite. In so doing, industry will be better able to ensure they are hiring workers who can succeed in the 21st century's advanced manufacturing environment.

For manufacturers interested in finding qualified workers, and students looking to build skills for a career in manufacturing, the M-List is a new place to start.

Read additional IMT Career Journal Initiative Spotlight Series features:

Initiative Spotlight Series: U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Institutes