- About one-third of manufacturing workers held a bachelor's degree in 2016, up from only 8% in 1970, according to a new report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. Meanwhile, the share of workers with a high school degree or less shrunk from 79% to 43% over the same time period.
- Manufacturing employs about 12.6 million workers, down from a high of nearly 20 million in 1979. Automation has displaced millions of workers and taken over many routine tasks, causing more manufacturing positions to require or degree or credential.
- The center projects that the sector overall will shed 8% of its workers with less than a high school diploma by 2027. There will be 200,000 fewer "good jobs" — or those that make at least $35,000 — for those with bachelor's degrees, but 300,000 more good jobs for workers with middle skills.
The research further supports two well-documented trends: the dramatic narrowing of the job market in manufacturing and the growing need for postsecondary training for industry jobs – particularly through associate degrees and credentials.
However, even the number of good manufacturing jobs available to workers without a bachelor's degree has been dwindling, from 7.2 million in 1991 to 4.8 million in 2016. Meanwhile, middle-skill jobs, or those where workers have more than a high school education but less than a bachelor's degree, account for some of the biggest growth in the sector. For example, the number of associate degree-holders with good manufacturing jobs grew to 1 million in 2016.
The center notes that nondegree credentials also boost the chances that manufacturing workers will get a good job, regardless of their level of education. Having a certification or license, for example, improves the chances that workers with a high school diploma will find a good manufacturing job by 18 percentage points.
Many have lauded credentials a way to quickly upskill workers for the ever-changing needs of the job market. And indeed, research from the Lumina Foundation and the Strada Education Network found that those with nondegree credentials are more likely to report having a full-time job than those without credentials.
As such, the credential marketplace have been growing, with even soft skills on offer at some universities. There's also been a growing call for universities to embed certifications within their degree programs. That way, the thinking goes, colleges can keep their curriculum current and give students proof of in-demand skills before they graduate.
The Lumina Foundation has found value in the approach but notes that such efforts haven't been closely monitored for their effect on labor market outcomes. It may, however, prove to be one way for colleges to better meet the needs of U.S. employers, who often voice their difficulty with finding skilled workers.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the share of workers with less than a high school diploma expected to be lost by 2027.