As U.S. policymakers push to create more manufacturing jobs, here’s a disconcerting fact: Most adults who earn manufacturing degrees in Ohio don’t end up working in the industry there. In fact, some leave manufacturing and Ohio altogether.

Ohio has been called the “powerhouse of manufacturing,” with more than 690,000 jobs. However, a new RAND Corporation report found that fewer than 40 percent of adults who earned a manufacturing-related credential from an Ohio public college from 2006 to 2019 worked in manufacturing in the state one year after graduation.

Study authors say these findings suggest that the nation’s supply of highly skilled manufacturing workers is far greater—and their numbers grew by 17,000 in September—than those hired.

Why? One reason is a lack of diversity. Many who leave manufacturing are women or people of color. Higher-paid workers in manufacturing are predominantly male, and nearly 80 percent of workers are White. The industry struggles to be more diverse and inclusive.

Ohio offers valuable lessons for U.S. employers and educators on the fast-changing challenges and opportunities in manufacturing. Here are some study highlights:

  • Attrition in manufacturing is especially high for workers who are women, Black, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American. These workers are also paid less and promoted less often than their peers.
  • Identifying ways to reduce attrition from manufacturing education to the workforce is crucial for growing the pipeline of highly skilled workers and expanding a diverse workforce.

Recent reports project that demand for skilled American manufacturing workers will outpace supply in the coming years, with an estimated 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. Industry leaders say they are discouraged by the tight labor market, noting that they even struggle to fill high-paid entry-level production jobs. To remedy this, industry and policy leaders must:

  • Find ways to improve the pay and benefits for diverse workers. Combat attrition through opportunities for upskilling, which are relatively rare across the industry.
  • Attract workers from all walks of life. A recent workshop by the Manufacturing Institute focused on giving “second chances” to people who served time in jail and want to learn manufacturing skills.

While we have more work to do—these studies raise as many questions as they answer—we can make progress with these new data. At Lumina Foundation, we’ll continue to learn from research, ensure quality credentials lead to good jobs, and support adult students eager to learn, earn, and contribute their diverse talents to a better world.

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