Does a Piece of Paper Really Prove Anything?

Challenges: Workforce, Read

Posted by Christine Schmitz

Estimated Reading Time : 4 min.

My youngest child is graduating high school on Sunday and it got me wondering how much a high school diploma is actually worth these days? There are wildly differing reports and, like most things, it seems to depend on a number of factors such as where you live, what you plan to do with it, and even personal factors such as work ethic and personality. One thing seemed certain though - it’s better to graduate than not graduate. There is inherent value in completing this course of study and I’m certainly ready to celebrate the milestone.


What does this have to do with MakingChips you might wonder? Well, this week’s MakingChips manufacturing news segment focused on a Modern Machine Shop article about how The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), in partnership with Festo Didactic, is developing skills standards and credentials for jobs involving manufacturing digitalization and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies -- developing their own little graduation certificate of sorts.

As Nick pointed out, this could be an exciting development for all of us leaders within the manufacturing industry who are staying up at night mulling over ways to navigate hiring and promoting employees while accommodating the current data-driven revolution and compensating for our field’s ever-expanding skills gap.

Uncharacteristically, Jason fully agreed with Nick that the skills gap is inarguably a top priority, yet true-to-form he also casually mentioned there’s still some debate within the manufacturing leadership community, particularly among hiring managers, as to whether credentialing is “good” or “bad” for new hire and promotion decisions.

Without Jim around to play antagonist (Vegas, I hope you’re treating Mr. and Mrs. Carr very well) I decided to see what else has been published in recent manufacturing news that could shed a little light on this potential debate.

My first click was on an Industry Week article from a couple of months back which begins with this opening question: “As manufacturers consider candidates to add to their talent pool, what do you think indicates a better predictor of success: credentials or experience?”

This is actually a great question to ponder - so great, in fact, that Workcred, an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) affiliate, put together an extensive report funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) examining just exactly how credentials are currently being used in manufacturing hiring and retention practices, and how credentialing can be improved to advance the manufacturing industry.

Nine hundred and forty-five manufacturers participated in the study via online surveys and in-depth focus groups to evaluate the effectiveness of current credentials and provide feedback for improvement.

Among the findings:

  • Credentials have uneven use in the manufacturing industry and are not routinely required or used as a major factor in hiring or promotion decisions.
    • 45% of manufacturers responding to the survey said they prefer credentials; 30% reported not using them at all. 
  • Many manufacturers do not know what credentials are available or how they are relevant to their workplace.
  • Many manufacturing leaders do not view credentials as the most relevant tools to identify new skilled personnel or as incentives to improve the quality of their existing workforce.
    • 66% felt that experience is a better predictor of performance; 36% said they needed to retrain credential holders anyway.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 2.01.05 PM-1The report also features recommendations for multiple stakeholders including manufacturers, credentialing organizations, educators, accreditors, and policymakers.

According to the The National Network of Business and Industry Associations, the field of Advanced Manufacturing “has a variety of industry-recognized credentials that span multiple industries, skill-levels, and job functions”.

The National Network recognizes 16 organizations that have standards, credentials and skills certifications. Credentials included in this group cover foundational academic, personal and workplace skills; cross-cutting technical skills; and occupation-specific skills. Most credentials are organized into academic and career pathways, providing direction to entry-level and higher-level jobs in functional areas such as welding or machining.

When participants of the Workcred study were asked to name their top industry credentials for employment decisions, both large and small manufacturers cited the NIMS, the IPC21, the national HVAC credentials, and the Professional Engineer license. Of the study participants, 13% said they develop their own facility-specific credentials to apply to certain jobs.

And while one of the most critical findings from the study was the need for improved understanding of the purpose, use, and competencies of manufacturing credentials, the study also recommended a new app, Credential Finder, to assist with credential comparisons aligning with the needs of job seekers, workers, and employers.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-read yet extensive summary of this study, check out the NIST Manufacturing Innovation blog for this, and so much more.

But getting back to our original question as to whether credentials or experience are the better predictors of success, 66% of the Workcred study participants confidently put their money on experience.

Yet, I feel it’s important to clarify that participants from larger manufacturing facilities (more than 500 employees) were more likely to prefer industry credentials than smaller facilities; while the majority of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) said they do not routinely require credentials or use them as a major factor in hiring or promotion decisions.

So, it begs the personal question of where do you stand? Chances are your answer has a lot to do with the size of your company and the particular skilled position you are looking to fill. However, I will leave you with this parting note: 36% of the study participants said, regardless of credential status, most new employees require training no matter what.

My two cents, for what it’s worth, is that I believe industry credentials do have value and could contribute to the metalworking nation by helping identify qualified job applicants and expediting on-boarding times. But first, we need to as an industry, clarify existing manufacturing credentials and, just as the NIMS partnership involving manufacturing digitalization and IIoT technologies is doing, determine what new credentials are needed for areas not yet covered.

Wonder if Jim would mind checking the odds on that for us?