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The Great Debate: Degrees or Skills?

This article appeared in the October 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

In today’s tight labor market everyone is struggling to find the workforce they need — this is especially true for our nation’s manufacturers. For the first time in at least 20 years, there are now more job openings than there are people looking for work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings dropped for the first time since the Labor Department started collecting data in 2000, with an especially large increase in manufacturing jobs.

One of the reasons for this shortfall is workers appearing to not have the skills employers are looking for because the employer’s hiring process looks for traditional academic degrees, not skills.

Modern manufacturing is complex and driven by innovations in processes, automation, and the ever-increasing complexity of a global economic system. As a result, workers have needed to acquire new skills in order to continue their work in manufacturing. According to Deloitte and their Global Human Capital Report, the half-life of a skill is 5 years. That means today’s manufacturing worker requires constant retraining.

We also have the challenge of the perception of skills training. The cultural perception of both education and the general public is that the path to success is anchored in a degree.

Yet our nation’s employers agree that individuals with a degree are not necessarily prepared for the world of work. According to Inside Higher Education, college students may believe they’re ready for a job, while employers think otherwise.

As a former plant manager, I know firsthand the importance of skills. Skills run the nation’s manufacturing facilities, and those skills change at a rapid rate. Experience has taught me that when individuals lack the skills they need, manufacturers face quality and safety issues, miss production deadlines, and waste resources on rework.

So how do we change the conversation from Degrees to Skills?

The first step is to remove barriers of access. We need to stop searching for degrees and start creating the skills we need. Three ideas for action that you can take today are:

  1. Make training available to everyone that applies for a job but
  2. Make training available through community-based organizations.
  3. Make training available to everyone willing to work.

When we change our hiring process from one that looks for degrees to one that creates skilled workers, the result is greater opportunity and access across the board.


Get More!
The talent stats are staggering — dive deeper:

We have seen manufacturers take this approach and they are seeing results. To applicants that would otherwise be shut out, they now have access to the training they need. If they complete the training, they are guaranteed an interview and if they qualify, they get the job…and you get a committed individual willing to learn in a time of ever-changing skills.


Premium Associate Member180 Skills is an MMA Premium Associate Member and has been an MMA member company since November 2017. Visit online: www.180skills.com.

About the Author

Joe KittermanJoe Kitterman is CEO for 180 Skills, creators of the world’s largest library of skills training for manufacturing careers. He may be reached at joek@180skills.com.

This article appeared in the October 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

In today’s tight labor market everyone is struggling to find the workforce they need — this is especially true for our nation’s manufacturers. For the first time in at least 20 years, there are now more job openings than there are people looking for work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings dropped for the first time since the Labor Department started collecting data in 2000, with an especially large increase in manufacturing jobs.

One of the reasons for this shortfall is workers appearing to not have the skills employers are looking for because the employer’s hiring process looks for traditional academic degrees, not skills.

Modern manufacturing is complex and driven by innovations in processes, automation, and the ever-increasing complexity of a global economic system. As a result, workers have needed to acquire new skills in order to continue their work in manufacturing. According to Deloitte and their Global Human Capital Report, the half-life of a skill is 5 years. That means today’s manufacturing worker requires constant retraining.

We also have the challenge of the perception of skills training. The cultural perception of both education and the general public is that the path to success is anchored in a degree.

Yet our nation’s employers agree that individuals with a degree are not necessarily prepared for the world of work. According to Inside Higher Education, college students may believe they’re ready for a job, while employers think otherwise.

As a former plant manager, I know firsthand the importance of skills. Skills run the nation’s manufacturing facilities, and those skills change at a rapid rate. Experience has taught me that when individuals lack the skills they need, manufacturers face quality and safety issues, miss production deadlines, and waste resources on rework.

So how do we change the conversation from Degrees to Skills?

The first step is to remove barriers of access. We need to stop searching for degrees and start creating the skills we need. Three ideas for action that you can take today are:

  1. Make training available to everyone that applies for a job but
  2. Make training available through community-based organizations.
  3. Make training available to everyone willing to work.

When we change our hiring process from one that looks for degrees to one that creates skilled workers, the result is greater opportunity and access across the board.


Get More!
The talent stats are staggering — dive deeper:

We have seen manufacturers take this approach and they are seeing results. To applicants that would otherwise be shut out, they now have access to the training they need. If they complete the training, they are guaranteed an interview and if they qualify, they get the job…and you get a committed individual willing to learn in a time of ever-changing skills.


Premium Associate Member180 Skills is an MMA Premium Associate Member and has been an MMA member company since November 2017. Visit online: www.180skills.com.

About the Author

Joe KittermanJoe Kitterman is CEO for 180 Skills, creators of the world’s largest library of skills training for manufacturing careers. He may be reached at joek@180skills.com.
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