A Trend Analysis of Manufacturing-Related Program Graduates of Community and Technical Colleges: Great Lakes and Plains Regions

Article excerpt

Manufacturers in the United States are struggling to recruit and hire high-skilled workers needed to maintain productivity and to compete globally. While the total number employed in the manufacturing sector is shrinking, the demand for high-skilled workers has increased. Community and technical colleges have traditionally been an important source of high-skilled workers. This article analyzes the completion trends in manufacturing-related programs in community and technical colleges in the Great Lakes and Plains regions. Data for 10 four-digit program series and 41 six-digit program codes were retrieved from the National Center for Educational Statistic Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Short-term and long-term completions trends for the period 1996-2005 were identified for 12 states. Findings of this study, though not encouraging, add to the understanding of the skills shortage.

Background

Manufacturers in the United States are struggling to recruit and hire high-skilled workers needed to maintain productivity and to compete globally. While the total number employed in the manufacturing sector is shrinking, the demand for high-skilled workers has increased. According to Deitz and Orr (2006), "Technology and increased globalization have, on the one hand, reduced the number of low-skilled jobs and, on the other, provided opportunities for high-skilled manufacturing employment to expand" (p. 7). The transformation of the nature of jobs in manufacturing has thrust manufacturers into the midst of a severe shortage of qualified workers. A 2005 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found that "the vast majority of American manufacturers are experiencing a serious shortage of qualified employees, which in turn is causing significant impact to business and the ability of the country as a whole to compete in the global economy" (The Manufacturing Institute, 2005, p. 1). Employers have historically relied on the community college as a source of candidates for skilled positions. In recent years, critics have blamed the secondary and post-secondary education systems for not adequately preparing students for the workforce. Critics also hold the education systems culpable for directing students away from jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Although community colleges have been criticized for not meeting the demand for high-skilled manufacturing workers, the literature is void of data that either supports or rejects these claims. This trend analysis used data mining and knowledge discovery research techniques to provide knowledge of the output (completers or graduates) of high-skilled workers from manufacturing programs in community colleges. Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics were used to determine longterm and short-term completion trends in manufacturingrelated programs in the Great Lakes and Plains Region states. The trend analysis provides historical data regarding the role of community colleges in filling the need for high-skilled manufacturing workers. This study is limited to only one aspect of the information gap: completers (graduates) of credit-based manufacturing related programs. The study did not seek to inform readers of other important aspects of the knowledge gap, such as enrollment trends, non-credit training provided, or recruiting and marketing for manufacturing programs. While these are important areas that would inform the discussion, they were beyond the scope of this study.

Workforce Trends in Manufacturing

In the economy as a whole, manufacturing represents 11% of all employment, yet less than 5% of all establishments. Employment in manufacturing has decreased from 17.2 million jobs in 1996 to 14.2 million jobs in 2005 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The manufacturing sector share of the total workforce has dropped sharply, from 20% of the total workforce in 1979 to nearly 11% today (Deitz & Orr, 2006. p.l). Much of the loss in total employment can be attributed to increased labor productivity and international trade. …