- The U.S. economy added about 52,000 manufacturing jobs in 2017, with 3.5 million jobs in the sector needing to be filled by 2025 — an example of a resurgence in more technical labor fields that is ratcheting up demand for colleges and universities to restructure their course offerings, according to a recent profile in the Hechinger Report.
- In response to this trend, Shoreline Community College in Washington, among others, has taken a proactive approach, announcing new programs in manufacturing system operations and manufacturing training facilities. Similarly, Chicago and City Colleges of Chicago have teamed up to pilot the College to Careers program to enhance schools' "occupational programs in fast-growing fields," while the city has announced it will spend $75 million on a new manufacturing training facility to open this year.
- Industry leaders are also teaming up with educators and policymakers to fill manufacturing workforce needs in model partnerships. For instance, Vermont signed an agreement with a local businesses to build a warehouse facility that could create more jobs in the sector, while Vermont Technical College graduated in June 2017 its first cohort of students in a new manufacturing engineering technology degree program — an offering that aligns with a state initiative to invest $7.1 million into manufacturing, agricultural and energy initiatives and bring more workers into those fields.
Industry experts contend that a synergy between regional business needs and college training programs is key to higher education's success in addressing workforce needs. But some institutions are finding the challenge to recruit and retain students in manufacturing programs, as an example of re-emerging technical fields, can be a bigger challenge than they imagined, given the stereotypes surrounding manufacturing jobs and the technical skills needed to perform in the 21st century marketplace.
Community colleges have been spearheading a greater focus around addressing this issue with their entry into 'signing day' events and systems like California Community Colleges' industrial pairing programs. These examples show how colleges can be dialed into industrial changes through close relationships with companies and how students can be engaged to consider programs that offer fulfilling jobs and competitive salaries, even while staying close to home in fields that aren't usually at the heart of conversation in higher education.
Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, said that other institutions should look toward community colleges and observe what they are doing in order to addressing workforce needs more effectively, because they have more flexibility to innovate.
"Maybe 30 years ago you could come out with a high school degree and expect that you can feed the family and put food on the table. But the gateway into the world of work now is that at least 65% of jobs and careers requires some level of postsecondary credential. As you think about policy opportunities, please think through what it really takes to bring people people into these occupations," Ton-Quinlivan said during a briefing in Washington, D.C., on the Higher Education Act last week. "If you can be thoughtful about what are the community college systems that produce the middle-skill credential — that's a really important policy."