The shortage of skilled new-collar workers has become one of the major limiting factors in reshoring and restoring growth to the US economy. Workforce availability is the #1 criterion for plant site selection.

According to a report from JFF (Jobs For The Future), 81% of employers think they should be hiring based on the skills someone has, rather than the degree they were awarded; and 68% think they should be hiring graduates of programs that don’t even award degrees, as long as the students learn the right skills. Today’s workplaces require skills that are not necessarily being delivered through traditional higher education programs and workers who are not necessarily arriving in roles through traditional hiring practices.

A new-collar worker is an individual who develops the technical and soft skills needed to work in jobs through nontraditional educational pathways. These workers may not have a four-year college degree. Instead, the new-collar workers are trained through career and technical programs, community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, industry certification programs, on-the job apprenticeships, and internships.

Reshoring Initiative President Harry Moser explained that a national mind shift is needed for achieving success by promoting skills-based education and demonstrated proficiency as a pathway to high-paying new-collar careers of the future. Creating a stronger skilled workforce is critical to reshoring and the country’s manufacturing growth. America needs a coordinated effort between our educational system, government, and business leaders to provide the proper alignment between jobs and skills development.

Now companies such as Google, IBM, Accenture, and others want to drop degree requirements and put more emphasis on skills when hiring. Students who get the needed job skills while in high school and or with some post-secondary education can qualify for good paying jobs and if needed can go on to obtain a college degree.

State of Education

America’s educational system is struggling to graduate skilled career and college-ready citizens as indicated by the latest performance assessment scores, which are not painting a bright picture for the future of a skilled workforce or the country. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, math and reading performances of 13-year-olds have hit the lowest level in decades in the United States.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is an international assessment administered every three years that measures what 15-year-old students have learned in math, reading and science. It reports US students show no improvement in the academic performance gap which affects our global competitiveness.

In school most students receive a one-size-fits-all all level of instruction with a pass or fail grade the fact remains that they may not have achieved a level of learning proficiency to be successful in moving on to the next higher grade or the job market. Most classes are made up of a mix of students who fit into a bell-shaped curve. The teachers’ lesson plans and instruction are focused on the middle of the curve. While the bottom and top performers of the curve do not get enough attention to keep them engaged and excited about learning to their maximum potential.

Schools should commit to redesigning schedules, assessments, and student support practices to ensure systems provide equity in everyone’s education. Our schools need to pursue a competency-based learning (CBL) approach that reflects a deep belief that the education system needs to change to become a more inclusive and learner-centered approach.

To help deploy and validate the success of the CBL initiative, ETS and the Carnegie Foundation are envisioning a process to prepare and measure students’ skills. The potential changes in measuring education experience come as the conversation about shifting to a “skills-based” approach to jobs and hiring has exploded over the past few years.

Companies have long evaluated new employees through post-secondary credentialing, college degrees and years of field experience. In school, learning has been measured by “credit hours” — the time spent in a classroom — since 1906. As the economy evolves, technology advances and the workforce changes, individuals will need to have the relevant skills, intellectual curiosity, and willingness to learn and adapt to all the new-collar jobs.

Educational Renaissance

The world of education needs to launch an educational renaissance where technology along with the latest skills and competency-based models can and needs to be adopted and deployed for every student. Allowing them to learn at their own pace to be capable of reaching their maximum potential to include re-skilling or up-skilling for older workers.

This educational renaissance will use artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology advancements to enable instructors to provide appropriate levels of knowledge along with applied skill-based learning for each student. Teachers will be given new tools and systems to engage their students in a personalized, adaptive learning model, which is the most effective method to deliver instruction. For example, The Effectiveness of Adaptive Learning Systems in Personalized Education underscores the positive impact of personalized learning on academic achievement and student engagement. It cites several studies that demonstrate significant improvements in learning outcomes through various personalized learning methods.

An adaptive learning (AL) system can assess the knowledge obtained and retained by a student in a specific area of study. AL encompasses skill-based learning objectives to build a students’ knowledge base as they demonstrate mastery of a subject with a “Learn and Do” methodology for real world applications. One of the keys to new learning technology breakthroughs is the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. ChatGPT is part of the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) series developed by OpenAI. This new learning model is designed to achieve a new state-of-the-art approach to learning by rewarding each correct step of reasoning instead of simply rewarding the correct answer.

Adaptive learning combined with artificial intelligence applications can be designed to assess each student’s capabilities as they get introduced to a new body of knowledge, like mathematics. The goal is to evaluate the student’s subject matter knowledge at the beginning of a new class to establish a proper course of instruction to maximize the learning potential and provide an equitable environment for every student to learn and graduate with the needed employable skills.

The Future

As education breaks free from classroom boundaries and seat time, public school districts have an opportunity to collaborate through public-private partnerships to learn how to effectively graduate skilled and career-ready citizens meeting the demands of the job market. The goal of competency-based learning combined with the latest technology is to ensure that every student acquires the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in school, careers, and life.

In the future, adaptive learning systems will offer equitable personalized learning modules, tailored to each student’s needs and potential to learn. Now, every student who wants to learn and apply these new employable skills can make “Made in American” and “American Dream” a reality, for themselves in their community.

Glenn Marshall, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team, leads an initiative for a “Manufacturing and Educational Renaissance,” member of the Reshoring Initiative, Job Creators Network, and Industry Reimagined 2030. Contact and

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