Certification Introduces Basic Manufacturing Concepts

April 28, 2021
  • Gretchen Schultz
    By Gretchen Schultz
    Director of Workforce Development
    Tooling U-SME


The need for entry-level workers in manufacturing has never been greater. Nationally, manufacturing jobs are expected to grow by 16.8% over the next five years, and more than one-third of those jobs will be entry-level. Yet, employers are struggling to find qualified candidates who possess the basic manufacturing knowledge needed for these positions.

Working with our partners in industry, education and workforce, SME identified a need for an entry-level certification that validates an individual’s understanding of foundational manufacturing concepts and serves as a potential feeder into other well-established, long-standing certifications. SME’s new Certified Manufacturing Associate (CMfgA) covers topics such as shop math, assembly, maintenance, machining, inspection, and more, demonstrating that an individual has the necessary knowledge for high-demand, entry-level manufacturing roles such as assemblers, manufacturing associates, and production laborers. It is especially ideal for dislocated workers, under-employed individuals, high school students, veterans, at-risk youth and others coming from non-manufacturing sectors with little to no prior industry knowledge who wish to start on a career pathway within the field.

To help individuals prepare for the certification exam, Tooling U-SME offers an optional training program of 25 online classes covering Additive Manufacturing, Applied Mathematics, CNC, Inspection, Lean, Quality, Robotics, and Safety – topics driven by manufacturers as being relevant exposure for entry-level positions in wide-ranging vertical industries. Candidates can work with any training provider to prepare for the exam, or quickly move to taking the exam if they already have basic manufacturing knowledge. 

Building a Pipeline of Qualified Candidates

McHenry County Workforce Network in McHenry County, Illinois, sees a demand from the local manufacturing community for entry-level employees and works to fill these positions with local job-seekers.

Thomas Faber explains the organization’s interest in offering the CMfgA .“The Certified Manufacturing Associate meets the need for us to introduce basic manufacturing concepts to individuals seeking a new career in manufacturing, while building a pipeline of qualified candidates to fill our community’s open positions,” he said. “We recently placed an individual who had previously worked in a completely different field into an entry-level manufacturing role. Because he had completed the training from Tooling U-SME and passed the exam to earn the certification, the employer felt confident placing him in an entry-level role. With on-the-job training and other continued training, the individual has a possibility for advancement.”

“It’s a win-win for manufacturers and job-seekers,” he added. 

Meeting the Needs of Local Manufacturers

The Charles A. Jones (CAJ) Career and Education Center provides academic and career technical training for adults in the Sacramento, California area. Through a joint program with the Sacramento Valley Manufacturing Alliance (SVMA), students could earn a 10-hour OSHA General Industry Card or a Forklift Operator Certification, but there wasn't an appropriate certification for the basic manufacturing knowledge students gained until the introduction of the CMfgA.

“By aligning our curriculum with the CMfgA and using Tooling U-SME online training for a portion of our coursework, we can provide entry-level certification for the skills our local manufacturers demand, despite the pandemic challenges,” said Todd Frazee, an advanced manufacturing instructor at CAJ. “Thirty-four students have gone through the program so far, and all 5 students who chose to take the certification exam have passed and earned the CMfgA. Four of those have been placed in a job. Going forward, we will require the CMfgA exam as part of the program, with as many as 18 students taking the exam every five weeks.” 

Introducing a Career Option to Students

Historically, classes in manufacturing haven’t been offered to high school students in Hawaii. But with a goal of accelerating the growth of Hawaii's technology industry, HTDC INNOVATE Hawaii -- Hawaii’s NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership National Network Center – saw a need to introduce future workers to manufacturing as a career choice.

Through a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, HTDC INNOVATE Hawaii selected an initial group of 65 students from four high schools across the state. The students are currently participating in Tooling U-SME’s CMFgA training program and will take their certification exams in May. To enhance the program, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii conducts virtual tour and guest speaker opportunities with local manufacturers so the students can hear directly from manufacturers and be inspired by manufacturing as a field with tremendous upward mobility opportunities for advanced certifications and careers.

“This program connects manufacturers in Hawaii with the future workforce and helps them find qualified candidates who have a basic understanding of and a proven interest in manufacturing to help them fill open positions, especially since many have an aging and retiring workforce,” said Nicole Pfeffer, Project Engineer, HTDC INNOVATE Hawaii. 

A Solution for Onboarding and Career Pathways

The Certified Manufacturing Associate offers an initial step into a technology-rich industry filled with opportunities for continued growth and advancement into higher level positions. After earning the CMfgA, individuals can explore a variety of available career pathways in manufacturing and continue with training or education to earn more advanced technical certifications. The CMfgA can be a first step and feeder into these more advanced technical certifications offering careers with higher pay and skills. Additionally, the training program can be bundled with the certification exam for a comprehensive entry-level onboarding and training program for new hires.

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