The skills certification system pioneered by Shoreline Community College is key to jobs and economic recovery in Washington, according to a recent report by Seattle Jobs Initiative report.
Released in October, “Understanding King County’s Manufacturing Sector: Preparing Our Workforce for Good Job Opportunities,” looks at the forces and trends in manufacturing jobs in King County, the state and the nation.
The report says that the manufacturing sector in King County is one of the strongest in the nation. However, despite a well-educated workforce when compared with the rest of the state, there remains a significant gap between the skills needed for jobs and skills available in the workforce.
In addressing that gap, according to the report, “… the NAM-Endorsed Certification System implemented by The Manufacturing Institute is producing sound results.”
The system consists of five industry-based certifications. They are: National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) Production Technician Certification, National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), American Welding Society (AWS), and Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
“The NIMS certification has been implemented at Shoreline Community College with satisfying results; 100 percent of the students who graduated from the program are currently employed. The program was able to provide students with good paying jobs, work closely with manufacturers, and also create new curriculum to meet industry needs,” the report says.
Shoreline President Lee Lambert said he appreciated the acknowledgement because he knows students are benefitting.
“Whenever we can closely tie the education and training we provide to industry and then have third-party certification of those skills, the students win,” Lambert said. “When the students win, their families win, the economy wins, everybody wins.”
Lambert began working with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in 2008 on the certification system when he was asked to join the group’s first-ever national Education Council focused on expanding and enhancing America’s manufacturing workforce. Including educators and industry representatives, that council began crafting the system based on the central idea of stackable certifications and credentials that students could choose to add to as they progressed through a career.
Shoreline applied the approach to the CNC Machinist program and by 2010 it became the first NIMS-certified program on the West Coast. Machining students who pass the NIMS test can take that certification to any employer across the country as evidence of their skill level.
The concept of industry-endorsed curriculum and third-party certification is used successfully in a number of other programs at Shoreline, including nursing, dental hygiene, health informatics, automotive technician and others.
"It isn’t just the idea that makes this work, it also takes talented and committed people,” Lambert said. “Fortunately, we’ve got folks like Dean of Science Susan Hoyne, CNC instructor Keith Smith and career navigator Michelene Felker. Without them, this program would not be as highly successful as it is.”
The Seattle Jobs Initiative report says that while manufacturing’s share of total jobs in King County has been shrinking, the actual number of jobs has been increasing. The report adds:
“Moreover, the sector should continue to offer multiple middle-wage job opportunities for workers with the right level of skills. Importantly, the industry as a whole – and particularly certain subsectors – are becoming demonstrably more reliant on advanced technology, requiring workers with increasingly technical skills.
“Already, there is a skills gap that exists between available jobs and an under-skilled workforce. Exacerbating this gap is the need to train and employ younger skilled workers in an effort to combat the aging manufacturing workforce. By addressing these issues the local workforce system – including workforce development organizations, community colleges, and sector employers – will help to maintain the strong manufacturing presence in King County.”
Lambert said such cooperative work isn’t new for community colleges, but it is important.
“It is inherently our mission to work together to meet the needs of our communities ¬- all of our communities - including our students, industry, business-owners, taxpayers and more,” he said. “This is what we’re supposed do and when we do it well, those communities benefit.”