Data show that America’s current manufacturing workforce is aging and retiring as the sector is expanding exponentially and its demand for workers outpaces supply. Thus, a new report from the RAND Corporation looking at the career and technical education pathways designed to take postsecondary students directly from the classroom to the manufacturing floor is especially timely. It expands the research in this understudied area, focuses on efforts in Fordham’s home state of Ohio.
Data come from the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive, drawing on information from the state’s higher education institutions and technical colleges, as well as from state unemployment insurance records. Student records include when each student first enrolled in a college or program; the duration of their enrollment; the program type, courses taken, and grades; whether and when the student earned a degree; and the type of degree earned. The technical college records are similar but include a course-based proxy for specific credentials earned. The data cover postsecondary enrollments and degrees earned between 2006 and 2019. The unemployment data cover 2007 through 2021, and all wage estimates are presented in 2021 dollars. To delineate “manufacturing-related” programs—the specific focus of their analysis—from other career and technical courses, the researchers use Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes. As you might imagine, the list is heavy on engineering, construction, metalwork, and plastics courses.
In 2019, more than 30,000 students were enrolled in manufacturing-related postsecondary programs in Ohio. Approximately 1,600 were enrolled in technical colleges, 13,500 in associate degree programs at traditional two- and four-year institutions, and 13,800 in bachelor’s degree programs at those institutions. Interestingly, the previous decade showed a sharp decline in the number of students pursuing associate degrees and a steady rise in the number pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Technical college enrollment remained largely flat during that time. In terms of completion, approximately 7,700 students earned a manufacturing-related credential in 2019. Not surprisingly, given the enrollment trend, the largest share earned a bachelor’s degree. The number of completers at technical colleges was down against its high point a few years earlier. That total number also includes individuals who earned a manufacturing-related certificate independent of formal higher education settings (adult apprenticeships, formal upskilling by current employers, etc.), which nearly equaled the associate degree completers. In short, Ohio’s manufacturing employers should have been swimming in applications from skilled employees.
Data show that 82 percent of those who completed a technical college program were employed within a year of completion, compared to 84 percent of those who completed a certificate, 83 percent of those who completed an associate degree, and 65 percent of those who completed a bachelor’s degree. Those percentages remained fairly strong for up to five years post-completion, indicating that degrees and credentials are valuable to their recipients. However, a much smaller share of those credentialed individuals were primarily employed in the manufacturing sector. To wit: Just 38 percent of those who completed a technical college program were employed in Ohio manufacturing at one year post-completion, compared to 27 percent of those who completed a certificate, 25 percent of those who completed and associate degree, and 30 percent of those who completed a bachelor’s degree. Those percentages also remained similar after five years.
Where were they going instead? Construction, retail, technical services, administrative/support, and waste management/remediation services were the biggest recipients of manufacturing-credentialed workers in 2019, with a perhaps-predictable differentiation in professional versus service employment based on whether workers earned bachelor’s or sub-bachelor’s degrees or credentials. The attrition does not appear to be driven by industry pay gaps, as Ohio’s manufacturing industry pays higher wages than do other industries into which credential-earning workers opt. White males are more likely than females and non-white men to move directly from credential to employment, both in manufacturing and non-manufacturing jobs, and their wages are higher, as well.
The bottom line seems to be that even with a fairly clear pathway from the graduation stage to the factory floor, Ohio needs more newly-credentialed individuals to take that step, especially if a more-diverse manufacturing workforce is desired. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. The report suggests geographic concerns (too few manufacturing jobs in the local areas where students are graduating) and skill mismatches (credentials earned are not the ones local employers need) as prime areas where gaps could be addressed. It is to be hoped that as the Silicon Heartland takes root and expands outward from central Ohio, the new and growing manufacturing presence here will bring on a concomitant effort to reach into the education world and help shape existing training and credentialing programs to their needs, to build new ones as needed, to welcome nontraditional employees, and bridge any gaps or mismatches between school and work.
SOURCE: Lisa Abraham, Christine Mulhern, and Lucas Greer, “Strengthening the Manufacturing Workforce in Ohio,” RAND Corporation (August 2023).