Manufacturing Our Future Summit – 1998
October 6 – 8, 1998
Hosted at the Worcester’s Centrum Centre

Training Report


Education, Training and School to Work Programs conducted through the Manufacturing Advancement Center are all endorsed by the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM) in collaboration with C.J. Shroll, Vice President – Workforce Development and Director – National Skill Standards for Manufacturing. The reasons for paying special attention to the development of skill standards in manufacturing and their role in workforce development programs are outlined in the following text.

Background and Needs

Economist Lester Thurow of MIT wrote, "The skills of the workforce are going to be the key competitive weapon in the twenty-first century. Brainpower will create new technologies, but skilled labor will be the arm and legs that allow one to employ the new product and process technologies that are being generated. Skilled people become the only competitive edge." Alex Trotman, Chairman, Ford Motor Company and Chair, National Employer Leadership Council, may have put it into better terms when he said, "Making our workforce the most competitive in the world is the key to ensuring the vitality of our industries, our economy, and perhaps most importantly, our democracy."

Agile enterprises, those companies with the ability to respond quickly to the constant technological changes and increasing empowered and demanding customers, require skilled workers at all levels. Only skilled workers can design and implement change quickly, often and with quality. As we move into the next century, workers in high performance manufacturing will need to possess a broader skill set than today’s workers. In addition to basic academic and technical skills, workers will need teamwork, customer service, communication, problem-solving and lifelong learning skills.

Jobs for workers without the skills to implement technologies such as, CAD, TQM, JIT, CNC, SPC and CAM, are rapidly disappearing. The graph below illustrates the percentage for each of the major technologies utilized in U.S. manufacturing today. These numbers will only continue to grow as technology advances, displacing the unskilled jobs with those that require more technical skills, and the ability to adapt to an ever-changing manufacturing environment.

In 1950, roughly 60% of the manufacturing jobs were unskilled.

Today that figure is 30% and by the year 2005, the number of unskilled manufacturing jobs is expected to shrink to 15%. Another way of stating this is what Peter Drucker repeatedly pointed out, the shift to knowledge work means a shift from prefigured to configured responses. In other words, instead of simply carrying out routines that have been figured out by others, the knowledge worker must figure out what to do in this or that situation. Today’s worker must also be able to work in teams, communicate with customers, and continuously upgrade their skill levels in order to maintain wages and job security.

If the center of gravity in the workplace has indeed shifted from those who invoke prefigured routines to those who configure or construct their responses, then it follows that the center of gravity in training must shift from task-specific skill development, with its limited emphasis on employee knowledge, to the development of general problem solving skills and a greater increased emphasis on the employee’s knowledge base and ways of keeping it current.

This is not only a manufacturing and/or education problem, but in the larger scope effects the entire community. A unified, coordinated system for preparing the workforce of the future is not only a benefit to employers, but it is also very important to the local economy. Businesses can import many resources needed for success, raw materials, executive talent, technology, but depend on the local labor pool for employees at the technical and service levels. It is the successful companies that will provide the good paying jobs that enable a community to enjoy a high and rising standard of living. If companies can not find qualified talent in the local labor pool, there is a good possibility that they may close or move to a more desirable location, and when this happens, the community as a whole suffers. Indeed, the availability of high-quality technical and career education, which leads to good jobs and opportunities for career advancement, contributes to the quality of life of the entire community. Successful communities will be those that develop a workforce development system that equip people, of all age, with skills needed by high performance manufacturers.

Unfortunately, few communities have a system that is filling this mission. In fact, as employers adjust their hiring to find workers with these broader skill sets, they report, in all industries and at all levels, a substantial shortage of qualified applicants. This has lead to a growing frustration among employers with the education and training system. Employers believe that the K – 16 system should prepare people for the new workplace, and are frustrated when graduates from high schools, community colleges or universities don’t have the necessary skills.

The expectations of the K – 16 system held by employers is clearly a minority view. Most educators, parents, students, and policymakers expect the K – 16 system to meet a liberal arts/academic standard leading to a four-year university degree. If they are frustrated with the current system, it is that too few students are meeting the standards needed to obtain the four-year degree. The major push to reform K – 12 education reflects these broad based expectations of preparing for college by pushing for more rigorous standardized tests, higher academic standards and higher academic expectations for all students. But what about those students who do not want to go beyond high school and are preparing to enter the workforce upon graduation? And, as pointed out by the employers, what good is the Liberal Arts degree if the structure of curriculum is not based on skills required in today’s workplace?

There are, of course, pieces of the current K – 16 system that are more career oriented, vocational programs in high school, occupational degrees at community colleges, and professional schools at universities. But even those are built on the traditional model of fixed academic and technical mastery leading to a degree. The broader skills and competencies sought by employers are not normally part of even these career-oriented programs.

Statistics show that 75% of students entering high school today will not go on to complete the requirements of a four-year college degree. At best, only about half of those who enroll in a four-year college program have graduated six years later. Some estimate the figure to be as low as 30%. In 1996, 27% of the freshmen class nation-wide dropped out, an all-time high rate. And if you think that students will transfer from a community college to a four-year program, think again, only 12% are found on those campuses three years later.

If that is not discouraging enough, consider that currently one out of every three students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree fails to find a job in their field of study. Only one in two who graduate with a professional credential such as teaching, engineering, accounting or the biological sciences, will find commensurate employment. There are not enough jobs to satisfy the professional goals of all college graduates. While our nation’s colleges graduate more than a million students with professional degrees each year, the economy only generates 600,000 jobs. By the year 2000, 25% of college graduates will be employed in jobs that do not currently require a college education.

Yet we as a nation continue to support colleges and universities and their public relations sales pitch. Every parent wants their child to go to college. It is their firm believes that the only way to "get ahead" in today’s society is with a four-year college degree. Our educational guidance counselors cram the benefits of a post-secondary degree.

Conversely manufacturing is an underserved market. Technical employment is the fastest-growing segment of today’s labor market. Professional occupations, mainly those that are supported by the traditional four-year degree, make up only 20% of all jobs. This number has held steady for almost 50 years. Technical jobs not only pay well, but are more plentiful than professional jobs, and their numbers continue to grow. If someone wants to continue their education after high school, then they should consider a technical two-year programs. Graduates of two-year college programs in high demand occupations such as, certified welders, machine technicians, and even dental hygienists, usually find high-paying jobs quickly. While graduates of four-year colleges who lack a career focus in school find themselves working in low-skill, low-wage jobs while they search in vain for an opening in the field for which they studied. Labor market advantage for high-skill, high-wage jobs comes from education that is focused on a career goal, not from education for the sake of a degree.

John Clendenin of BellSouth said, "The bottom line in America’s fight for long-term competitiveness ultimately will be won or lost not in the halls of Congress, not in the boardrooms around the world, but in America’s classrooms." We must supply our educators and training community with the proper ammunition to win this battle. We have just given examples of why they are currently ill prepared to engage in this war. The question then becomes how do we, the manufacturers and the community, along with the educators better equip our graduates at all level to step-up to the challenge before us? The solution is not going to happen overnight, but if we start today them we have a chance. If we start tomorrow, we are already too late!


Defining the skills, background, and abilities of workers is subjective in many ways. Those workers that decide not to pursue formal undergraduate or graduate-level education yet seek to improve their knowledge about their career, may attend various training sessions, seminars, or classes in their specific area of expertise and receive certification of training when these classes are completed. Those that sponsor the training session may award these certificates to attendees of the seminars without discretion, based solely on attendance.

Skill standards serve to "document the knowledge, skill, and abilities required for workers to successfully perform in a given occupation or field. Skill standards are the thread, which pulls together job requirements with education, training, and career development programs. Academic curricula can be more effectively integrated with hand-on employer training programs through linkage of skill standards.

Many individual organizations have for some time recognized the problem and independently they have taken steps to rectify the situation. However, in isolation they are sometimes but a weak voice crying out in the wilderness. They address only the particular industry they represent. One characteristic, weather it is NIMS Approved, National Institute for METALWORKING skills, distributed by The National Tooling and Machining Association, or those developed by The National Printing Skills & Knowledge Standards Project and adopted by the Printing Industries of America, or The Skills Standards developed by PMA, Precision Metalforming Association, is that they all contain a portion labeled core, basic or general knowledge skills which may include some, if not all, of the following categories:

Communications Teamwork Math/Measurement
Health & Safety Problem Solving Quality Blueprint Reading
Mfg. Fundamental
Business Planning & Org. Computer Use Process Control
Workforce Issues Workplace Skills Learning Skills

To some degree these are the fundamental skills required by any individual entering the workforce. It is with these basic ingredients that we can start to define jobs in American Manufacturing. We have found that NACFAM, the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing, has developed a set of core skills, in each of the above subjects, called the National Skill Standards for Advanced High Performance Manufacturing.

In 1994, passage of the National Skills Standards Act (NSSA) enabled Congress to establish the National Skills Standards Board (NSSB), an independent, non-partisan body whose function is to coordinate the development of a voluntary system of skill standards to meet the needs of employees and employers alike. In June of 1997, the NSSB awarded a grant to the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM) and the Industrial Union Department (IUD) of the AFL-CIO to create a voluntary partnership capable of developing a nationwide system of voluntary standards for manufacturing, installation and repair. The standards that have been developed will assist employees gain skills that are transferable between various sectors of industry and give employers access to skilled workers whose abilities, background, and training are accredited through a nationally recognized system of standards.

These are the core, or basic, skills on which all manufacturing industries can, and should, build job descriptions and define manufacturing positions. They are also the skills which can easily be communicated back to our educational institutions and training providers by manufacturers and employees. In some of the higher skilled positions, the skill standards that have been developed by those previously noted, are used, and manufacturers are able to identify gaps in their current workforce and can specifically address these with educators and training providers. We need to standardize the core standards so that everyone can easily communicate, in the same language, their needs to the appropriate resource that can provide the training. The long-term effect would be to eventually transfer this training need back to our K – 16 educational systems.

The NACFAM Skill Standards, also referred to as the National Skill Standards for Manufacturing, are less than two years old, yet there is a ground swell of support across America for their use. Utilization ranges from defining skills for a broad range of manufacturing jobs to enhance workforce development and employee skills, to curriculum development by schools and training providers. A list, supplied by C.J. Shroll, of the organizations adopting these skill standard and their intended applications can be found at the end of this paper on pages 15 and 16.

There remains the question of how do manufacturers go from the NACFAM Skills Standards to those industry specific skill standards developed by MINS, PMA, etc.?

Work in Progress

We are currently working with KomTeK, here in Worcester, and Space Age Electronics, in Marlboro, to implement the NACFAM Skill Standards into the job descriptions of entry-level positions. The process is educational not only for us, but also for the employer and employees. Job descriptions have gone from quantitative in nature to qualitative. They now represent a more succinct synopsis in terms of skills essential to successfully complete the required tasks for the position. Employers are beginning to have a better understanding of what constitutes a qualified candidate in terms of skills possessed prior to employment and for assuring success on the job.

In order to identify the skills essential for a specific position, a survey of those employees familiar with the job is the best possible way to solicit quality information. The process begins with the selection of the number of inputs that the employer feels can make a significant contribution to the data required. Among those selected should be the incumbent employees currently performing the job, employees that have, in the past, been employed in the position, and the current supervisor. To begin the process, an orientation session with these selected workforce participants explaining the skill standards and their eventual use is suggested. The purpose of this session is to unsure understanding and buy-in from those involved. The next step is to give the participants the complete list of skill standards by subset and ask them first, to determine if the skill is required to perform the job (Example A). The next question is how important is the skill in performing the tasks required by the position. Importance is divided into three categories; very important, somewhat important and not important. The definitions for importance are as follows:

Very important – this selection means that the skill is an essential part of the everyday requirements of the job. An employee in this job needs this particular skill to complete tasks that are the main portion of the job requirements.

Somewhat important – by selecting this choice, the employee indicates that the skill is not required to perform certain tasks that are everyday occurrences. However, the skill may be necessary when performing an occasional task.

Not important – this means that the skill is not required to perform any of the required tasks for the position, but knowledge of the skill would be of some assistance to job performance.

After this initial survey is completed, the next phase would be to establish a review team to analyze the results and determine the required skills for each position. Through consensus building, the review team’s responsibility is to develop skill standards for each job. It would also be responsible for adding additional job, department, and company specific skills. The review team should be composed of personnel from human resources, management, organized labor, and one of the more senior position incumbents. A third party, not employed by the organization, should facilitate the review team meetings. The result from the review team is to produce a complete list, by subset, of each skill required for a specific position resulting in good job performance.

After completing the identification and development steps, the list of complete skills for a specific job should be given to the current incumbents asking for their input as to their particular proficiency with each skill (Example B). Only those skills required for the job appear on this form, along with four levels of proficiency. The definitions of those four levels are:

Aware – this means that you have heard about this skill and recognize its importance in the workplace. You have been exposed to this skill or knowledge by reading, listening or observing.

Know – at this level you can explain this skill, and its importance, to someone else. You can recall the information about the skill or knowledge. You can make some use of the skill or knowledge in the workplace.

Perform – selecting this choice means you can use the skill at the required level in the workplace. You also have the ability to use ideas, methods, concepts, principles, and theories in new situations.

Need training – select this box if you have an immediate need or desire to be involved in training to improve this particular skill and/or knowledge.

With this input from each incumbent the organization is able to compile training requirements for individuals, and as more positions are added, groups of employees. These needs or gaps are easily identified and communicated to the educational community and other training providers. Also, as more and more jobs are completed, a company-wide skill standards database, company skills profile, can be developed (Example C). This profile will identify skills that transcend the individual position or department, and are applicable company wide. These are the skills that the company needs to maintain by frequent training programs and updates.


But it does not stop there. As other companies implement skill standards within their organizations a consortium of company can form to provide training at reduced cost. The more companies that are on-board, a community-wide skills profile can be developed. This skill profile represents those skills required throughout all of manufacturing at the community level. At this community level, the aggregate of a number of company specific profiles, supported by the national information, will give a more clear direction to the schools, students and parents about the learning that should be taking place in the community’s schools. This type of information becomes a powerful voice to the educational community, as to the skills required by the local labor market. By utilizing clear and specific skill standards as a foundation for curriculum and learning, schools will be better able to document student achievement relative to the world of work.

The Manufacturing Advancement Center’s goal is to assist you, the employer, in implementing the NACFAM Skill Standards into your organization. We will provide materials to begin the process and hold orientation sessions with employees. Our role is also as facilitator of the review team meeting to determine individual job skills. We are in the process of developing the Manufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Educational Consortium (MACWEC) to provide companies with a clearinghouse for training programs, assisting them in finding the right training provider, announcing classes and developing courses, all at a reduced cost to the individual company. We can strengthen the communications between manufacturing and the educational community and develop partnerships that are responsive to the needs of the community.

Our long-term goal is to establish these skill standards so that manufacturers use their company-specific profiles to advertise for new employees based on the skills and knowledge needed.

This will be a significant and welcome improvement to the current form of most job descriptions and job title based ads.

Potential applicants can then more easily and accurately compare their own skill profile with a company’s current needs. This will enable the portability of skills and break through the barrier of "no experience" in a particular job title. This improved

system of ads and responses will greatly reduce the cost to employers and the anguish of applicants by minimizing the screening of applicants and assessing work readiness by temporary work assignments. It will also reduce the number of new-hires that "do not work out" because of different expectations and unfounded assumptions.

The Road Ahead

The following graph represents the amount of dollars spent for computers by U.S. business since1970. From 1978 to 1996 the amount has risen from $1 billion to $132.8 billion. These expenditures also signify the emergence of new technology in manufacturing. A remarkable amount of these technological advances have been brought on by the advent of the computer and its evolution over the last three decades.


The computer continues to usher in these technological advancements in manufacturing, and with it comes the demand for a more sophisticated workforce. As computer technology grows, its use in manufacturing will also grow. The two are forever linked and the workforce that can grow with each will establish a competitive edge in today’s global economy. Today’s workforce will need those skills to achieve tomorrow’s goals, and the ability to understand that working and learning are also intertwined. The NACFAM Skill Standards are the first step in developing that workforce.

While the use of skill standards in manufacturing remains strictly voluntary, it is our belief that various manufacturers will integrate them into their work because skill standards have proven to be highly beneficial in achieving other stakeholders’ respective

goals. They have been able to see what is in it for them. Specifically, through a system built on continuous improvement, the use of skill standards will have the following results:

The Manufacturing Advancement Center will continue to seek out companies that are advanced high-performance manufacturers. The type of companies who are using computer-based technologies, teamwork, and communications integrated into a system capable of furnishing a mix of products in large and small volumes, with efficiency of mass production and the responsiveness of custom manufacturing. Such firms are further characterized as having empowered workers, using TQM and JIT, and continuously improving to be lean and agile. The MAC will also embrace those companies who have the desire and determination to become advanced high performance manufacturers.

It is our goal to add five to ten additional manufacturers to the skill standards database within the next year. The objective is to produce seven to twelve company skills profiles leading to the community skills profile. These companies will determine the basic skills required by the workers of the twenty-first century. The MAC will assist them as they continue to develop employees, because they have recognized that the employees are their competitive edge, and that finding, training and keeping qualified workers will be the priority in the years to come.

As we continue to work with companies large and small throughout the central Massachusetts region, it is our goal to provide the areas manufacturers with quality employee training, which will allow manufacturers to compete in a global economy. The development of the Manufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Education Consortium is our next step. This program coupled with company-wide skill profile will allow manufacturers throughout the region to provide their employees with the best training possible, as identified by the assessment of skill standards.

For more information on the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing Skill Standards and how you can use them in your organization, contact Manufacturing Advancement Center, 100 Grove Street., Worcester, MA 01605 or call (508) 831-7020.

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