Most of the action with short-term and alternative credentialing is happening in the IT, health care, and manufacturing industries. And these emerging pathways to jobs differ across each sector.
IT credentialing typically has been dominated
by big companies
, which have the scale to determine the skills and training workers need to break into the industry—and to work with their widely used platforms and software.
Health care is heavily regulated, with governments and licensing bodies setting skills requirements for relatively well-defined certifications and credentials.
Manufacturing is more chaotic. Credentials tend to feature vendor-specific training that doesn’t apply to other jobs. And automation is helping to ratchet up competition between companies, as they scramble to develop training for rapidly emerging automation-based skills.
The project has faced significant headwinds, however. It’s hard to track results, particularly for noncredit credentialing programs. And the recognition of skills certifications by companies has been disappointingly limited.
So the institute
, which is the nonprofit workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, began a five-year effort to figure out what value workers are getting out of skills certifications.
’s Elyse Ashburn looks at the results
, which tapped data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the U.S. Census Bureau to study outcomes for people who were in college credit-bearing programs and earned at least one of the more commonly used certifications.
The Bad News: Just 41 percent of people who earned a manufacturing certification ended up in the industry. The odds of working in manufacturing were worse for workers who are Black (22 percent) and Latino (35 percent).
“We have an extremely leaky pipeline,” says Gardner Carrick
, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. “In an industry that is frankly desperate for people right now, we can’t convert a majority of people who have self-selected into the field and earned a credential.”
The Good News: Among the 120K people who earned at least one entry-level certification during the dozen years before 2019, their average annual wage increased by roughly $15K. Workers also were more likely to remain in manufacturing or to move into the field after earning a certification.
Women, Black, and Latino workers had pay bumps that were on par with the average increase. The wage gains also held for workers who did not earn a degree—most did not. And older workers (age 46 to 60) on average fully recovered the sharp decline in their wages during the five years before they earned a certification.
Earnings also typically increased for certification completers who ended up not working in manufacturing.
“Just the decision to do something about your skill set, even if you don’t apply it in your next job, appears to change your trajectory,” Carrick says.