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Recent Research: "Competency-based Curriculums" Necessary to Build a 21st Century Manufacturing Workforce, According to New Report

April 13, 2011

Manufacturers face a growing talent deficit due to an outdated education system based on 19th and 20th century principles, according to the Roadmap to Education Reform for Manufacturing. The report, coauthored by the Manufacturing institute and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), is a compilation of books and research related to education reform and manufacturing topics available on NAM's website. Two broad recommendations are outlined that may address systemic educational deficits and reduce long-term education costs while developing a skilled workforce able to handle the increasing complexities of 21st century advanced manufacturing. The recommendations include the adoption of competency-based curriculums and increasing industry's role in developing and refining learning standards and assessments.

The authors contend that one of the major issues facing the current educational model is being based almost exclusively on time (e.g., K-12 grades are a single school year). This system based upon time creates a compounding problem of students either failing or falling behind. Students are forced to learn at an arbitrary pace set by the current curriculums and the school calendar. Due to the established time restraints, students that fail or fall behind have a tendency to fall even further behind because of the increasing complexity and interdependence of subjects — especially in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) areas. Overtime, this causes students to become disinterested in those subjects or fall so far behind they are unable to catch up. This fixation with time plays a major role in a national high school dropout rate of over 31 percent (approximately 1.3 million students a year), according to the authors.

To resolve our educational systems fixation with time, the authors propose a system based upon competency-based curriculums. The system allows individual students to progress once they have achieved a mastery of the subject's curriculum. Utilizing new technologies, educators and students would greatly benefit from the system including continual assessments of student progress and the ability to develop personalized lesson plans that are more in-line with the individual student's natural learning pace. Second, competency-based curriculums also could reduce the long-term costs to individual schools. According to the authors, a competency-based curriculum would lead to the compression of secondary-postsecondary learning via increases in the viability of dual enrollment programs, internship programs and early college model programs. These programs would help to alleviate the common program of 11th and 12th grade being "lost years" focused on elective classes that have little impact on the development of skilled laborers.

The educational system also faces a drastic disconnect between skills and knowledge that companies in advanced manufacturing need and those being taught at secondary and post-secondary levels. According to the report, "84 percent of manufacturers stated that the K-12 school system was doing an inadequate job of preparing students for the workplace." This lack of talent caused 32 percent manufactures to report that they had jobs going unfilled because they could not find workers with adequate skills. Manufacturers also contend that over the next 10 years almost 2.7 million manufacturing jobs, due to individuals 55 and older leaving the labor force, will be difficult to fill because of the increasing talent deficit.

To address this issue, the authors proposed more involvement of industry in the development and refining of student learning standards and assessments. The U.S. should focus on developing public-private-educational partnerships that work towards creating a skilled workforce that can address the needs of industry. However, this cannot occur only on regional and state levels, but also must occur on the national level. To achieve this national partnership, the authors propose a national "manufacturing skills certification system" that would assure employers that a student or entry-level worker has achieved several core competencies. This certification would assure that both secondary institutions and post-secondary institutions were producing similarly skilled workers that can fulfill the needs of the 14 advanced manufacturing industries. Read the report...

manufacturing, workforce, recent research