Is America Graduating Career-ready Citizens to Replenish the Talent Pipeline for Lasting Economic Recovery?

The 4.0 Industrial and Digital revolution is creating the need for new business models, new jobs, and entirely new skills every day. According to a report published by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the 2020s will create approximately 2 million new manufacturing job openings. These new jobs plus retirements could leave 4.6 million jobs unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers.

The Institute for the Future estimates up to 85 percent of “new-collar” jobs don't yet exist so having transferable skills will be more important than a degree. Advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotics are upending time-honored assumptions about jobs, careers, the role of technology in the workplace, and the way work gets done. These changes are needed to deal with the “‘new normal” and achieve a lasting economic recovery.

Graduating Career-Ready Citizens

Typically, students are encouraged to go to college to get ahead but only a small percentage of high school graduates are even prepared to enter the workforce or college. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation. The latest report shows that only about 30 percent of students tested are proficient in math, reading, and science at graduation.

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When looking at the 2019 results of ACT tests, taken by more than 1.78 million graduates i.e 52% of the U.S. high school graduating class, only 37% met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Thirty six percent met none of the benchmarks.

Most of the new-collar jobs are entry-level, requiring a high school diploma, a foundation of math and science, along with some additional training offered by an apprenticeship and other workforce development programs for success in school, work, and life.

Replenish The Talent Pipeline - Learning That Works Manufacturers who want to reshore production operations complain they cannot find enough skilled workers in the United States for their advanced manufacturing “smart factories.” Businesses need more graduates with STEM skills at all levels to remain competitive.

Now, employers and educational leaders are reevaluating the need for Career Technical Education (CTE) as an educational strategy that equips learners with the academic and technical skills they need to be prepared for future careers. Today’s CTE delivers real options for college and rewarding careers, helps learners build real-world skills and enhances the high school and college experience. CTE is having a positive effect on career- ready graduation rates, where 95 percent of CTE students graduate high school, 10 percent higher than the national average. Seventy eight percent of CTE graduates enroll in post-secondary education full-time.

In Virginia, New Horizons Regional Education Centers (NHREC) is the largest of the nine regional centers in the state and serves 1,500 public school students and 1,200 adult learners annually. New Horizons strives to become a state-of-the-art regional education center nationally recognized as an authority on specialized educational programs and services that support the development of a world-class workforce.

NHREC in partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) Apprentice School has launched Youth Builders (YB) a pre-apprenticeship program designed to improve the job readiness of high school students to enter and succeed in NNS registered apprenticeship program.

Youth Builders courses are “high tech” hybrid courses that strengthen students’ readiness for the apprentice program. Additionally, they provide face-to-face mentoring and coaching. YB’s are exposed to a variety of enriching workplace learning activities. Courses are coordinated within the students’ block scheduling at New Horizons. Upon completion of the pre-apprenticeship, students apply for the paid apprenticeship.

In addition, nonprofit organizations like Project Lead the Way and SkillsUSA are partnering with school districts and businesses across America to provide students with authentic pre-engineering and pre-business experiences. High school students who complete these programs have a more solid foundation for understanding manufacturing through STEM and business lenses.

To help students take advantage of these new collar opportunities, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) is releasing a certified production technician 4.0 certification. Based on extensive research in 2019 with a select committee, MSSC has chosen nine emerging 4.0 technologies it believes will profoundly influence manufacturing and quality control processes: 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous robots, additive (3D), data analytics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), augmented reality, nanomanufacturing and advanced materials.

Moving Forward

To put more emphasis on the need to prepare students and workers for the future of work, President Trump has asked companies to commit to expanding programs that educate, train and reskill American workers of all ages by signing the Pledge to America’s Workers. The White House workforce development program focuses on vocational job training and apprenticeships as a positive alternative to the current almost-default setting of a four-year college degree.

The U.S. educational system needs to focus on graduating career-ready citizens with employable skills and the knowledge to obtain the first job and to continue on with a post-secondary education and/or apprenticeships /credentialing for success in work and life.

To achieve this goal, educators and business leaders must form public-private partnerships and join with organizations like the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the Reshoring Initiative and other learning organizations to engage in reinventing the educational experience. The goal is to graduate all students with the basic knowledge and the critical thinking skills to adapt to the evolving challenges of new-collar careers and the ever-changing demands for the future of work.

To help students learn more about preparing for careers in advanced manufacturing, AME offers a free student membership. Together we can make “Made in America” and the “American Dream” a reality again!

Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), is on the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance” and a member of the Reshoring Initiative and Job Creators Network. For more information contact


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