Huffpost Business
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michele Nash-Hoff Headshot

Why We Don't Need a New Program to Train America's Manufacturing Workers

Posted: Updated:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama placed American manufacturing at the center of a "blueprint" for bringing back jobs and strengthening our economy. After years of being one of the "voices in the wilderness" urging our elected leaders to "save American manufacturing," it was gratifying to hear manufacturing being given such prominence.

I am concerned, though, that his idea of "one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help" American workers need for training or retraining for jobs would result in more government control and more deficit funding, adding to the burden of debt for American taxpayers. We don't need to wait for government to come up with a new program and spend taxpayer dollars developing new curricula for training for manufacturing jobs. We don't need to wash years of work and collaborations between industry, trade and professional organizations, colleges, and universities down the drain. A great deal has already been done and is being done to train and retrain today's workers and prepare the next generation of manufacturing workers.

When considering training, we need to understand the difference between certification versus a certificate. Certificate programs are training based on proprietary criteria/curriculum and sometimes include an exam without any recertification requirements. Numerous training companies, educational institutions, and individual training consultants compete to sell training courses that purportedly include "certification." In many cases, these are not based on a standard body of knowledge as developed by objective third-party entities, but rather paper certificates awarded for specific training. Certificate programs are useful to prepare workers for entry-level positions in many industries.

Certifications are based upon profession and competency. Certifications are independent, third-party assessments of knowledge, skills, and experience based upon a known publicly available standard overseen by industry. The exam includes legally defensible content and can be referenced back to widely available industry accepted references. Recertification is a key component and ensures individuals show evidence of continued learning. Professional certification is a designation earned by a person to assure they meet the minimum knowledge requirements of the profession and is transferable from state to state and company to company.

For example, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) was formed in 1995 by the metalworking trade associations to develop and maintain a globally competitive American workforce. NIMS sets skills standards for the industry, certifies individual skills against the standards, and accredits training programs that meet NIMS quality requirements. NIMS operates under rigorous and highly disciplined processes as the only developer of American National Standards for the nation's metalworking industry accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

NIMS has a stakeholder base of over 6,000 metalworking companies. The major trade associations in the industry -- the Association for Manufacturing Technology, the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association, the National Tooling & Machining Association, the Precision Machine Products Association, the Precision Metalforming Association, and the Tooling and Manufacturing Association have invested over $7.5 million in private funds for the development of the NIMS standards and its credentials. The associations also contribute annually to sustain NIMS operations and are committed to the upgrading and maintenance of the standards.

NIMS has developed skills standards in 24 operational areas covering the breadth of metalworking operations including metalforming (Stamping, Press Brake, Roll Forming, Laser Cutting) and machining (Machining, Tool and Die Making, Mold Making, Screw Machining, Machine Building and Machine Maintenance, Service and Repair). The Standards range from entry (Level I) to a master level (Level III). All NIMS standards are industry-written and industry-validated, and are subject to regular, periodic reviews under the procedures accredited and audited by ANSI.

NIMS certifies individual skills against the national standards. The NIMS credentialing program requires that the candidate meet both performance and theory requirements. Both the performance and knowledge examinations are industry-designed and industry-piloted. There are 52 distinct NIMS skill certifications. Industry uses the credentials to recruit, hire, place and promote individual workers. Training programs use the credentials as performance measures of attainment, often incorporating the credentials as completion requirements and as the basis for articulation among training programs.

NIMS accredits training programs that meet its quality requirements. The NIMS accreditation requirements include an on-site audit and evaluation by a NIMS industry team that reviews and conducts on-site inspections of all aspects of the training programs, including administrative support, curriculum, plant, equipment and tooling, student and trainee progress, industry involvement, instructor qualifications and safety. Officials governing NIMS accredited programs report annually on progress and are subject to re-accreditation on a five year cycle.

NIMS has launched a new Competency-based Apprenticeship System for the nation's metalworking industry. The NIMS system represents a dramatic departure from the time based system and integrates the NIMS national standards and skill certifications in defining and measuring required competencies.

Developed in partnership with the United States Department of Labor, the new system is the result of two years of work. Over 300 companies participated in the deliberations and design. The new National Guideline Standards for NIMS Competency-based Apprenticeship have been approved by the Department of Labor. NIMS has trained Department of Labor apprenticeship staff at the national and state level in the new system.

Another professional organization that provides certification is the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the world's leading professional society advancing manufacturing knowledge and influencing more than half a million manufacturing practitioners annually. Through its local chapters, technical communities, publications, expositions, and professional development resources, SME promotes an increased awareness of manufacturing engineering and keeps manufacturing professionals up to date on leading trends and technologies. SME provides the following professional certifications: Manufacturing Technologist, Manufacturing Engineering, Engineering Manager, Lean Certification (Bronze, Silver, and Gold), and Six Sigma.

SME's Certified Manufacturing Technologist program is utilized as an outcome assessment by numerous colleges and universities with Manufacturing, Manufacturing Engineering or Engineering Technology programs. Students who successfully earn the certification demonstrate broad knowledge and its application as related to the fundamentals of manufacturing, which sets them apart from other potential job candidates.

In addition, the SME Education Foundation has the mission to prepare the next generation of manufacturing engineers and technologists through outreach programs to encourage students to study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) as well as Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) education. Over its 30-year history, SME has invested $17.3 million in grants to 35 colleges and universities to develop industry-driven curricula.

In 2010, the Society of Manufacturing acquired Tooling University LLC (Tooling U) based in Cleveland, Ohio to provide online, onsite, and webinar training for manufacturing companies and educational institutions. With more than 400 unique titles, Tooling U offers a full range of content to train machine operators, welders, assemblers, inspectors, and maintenance professionals. These classes are delivered through a custom learning management system (LMS), which provides extensive tracking and reporting capabilities. The competencies tie the online curriculum to matching hands-on tasks that put the theory to practice.

The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) champions the success of the metal processing, forming, and fabricating industry. FMA educates the industry through the following programs:

FabCast -- FMA's webinar platform utilizes Internet connection and telephone to deliver live, interactive technical education programs directly to manufacturers on such topics as laser cutting, roll forming, metal stamping, etc. Companies can train their whole team at once, even from multiple locations. Companies can break up full days of instruction into modules and spread out over a period of time (i.e. two hours/ four days a week, four hours/ once a week for a month, etc.).

Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) Certification -- FMA's PSMO Certification is the metal fabricating industry's only comprehensive exam designed to assess a candidate's knowledge of fundamental precision sheet metal operations. Fabrication processes covered in the exam include shearing, sawing, press brake, turret punch press, laser cutting, and mechanical finishing.

FMA offers on-site, live training conducted at companies on their equipment as well as on-line training (e-Fab) that allows a company to get the training that they need, when they need it. E-Fab courses combine a full day's worth of instruction by FMA's leading subject matter experts with the flexibility of online delivery, available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Finally, there is ASQ, which is a global community of people passionate about quality who use the tools, the ideas, and their expertise to make the world work better. ASQ certification is a formal recognition that an individual has demonstrated a proficiency within, and comprehension of, a specific body of knowledge. ASQ certification crosses industry lines, ranging from Biomedical Auditor, Quality Technician, Inspector, and Engineer, Reliability Engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt to Software Quality Engineer. Nearly 150,000 certifications have been issued to dedicated professionals worldwide.

Training and retraining workers who are unemployed or underemployed are critical for the health and growth of the manufacturing industry, which will create good-paying jobs. The focus of a one-stop website for employment should be to distribute the training and certifications provided by the above-listed organizations at the national level down to the local level.