Jobs to Manufacturing Careers

Jobs to Manufacturing Careers

Preparing Incumbent Workers for Advanced Manufacturing Careers

Launching a pioneering work-based learning approach that engages employers, incumbent workers, and community college faculty in manufacturing technician education.

Deborah Kobes
617.728.4446 x109

Goals of Jobs to Manufacturing Careers:

  1. Develop and pilot a new work-based learning approach in manufacturing education. The delivery of work-based learning involves instructional strategies that strengthen adult learning, employing such techniques as problem-based learning, student portfolios, learning teams, coaching and mentoring, flexible schedules, the use of teachable moments during work, and observation and demonstration. 
  2. Support replication of the work-based learning approach for manufacturing education at the community college level through creation of a comprehensive, multimedia professional development toolkit, developed and hosted by WGBH/PBS.

Why Manufacturing Jobs?

  • The manufacturing sector has added jobs in 10 of the last 11 quarters, despite the U.S. economy losing jobs throughout that time.
  • Nevertheless, manufacturing employers are having difficulty filling these jobs, yet only 6% offer career planning or mentor programs as strategies to train and retain current employees

America’s international standing as a leader in manufacturing hinges on a technically competent workforce well versed in STEM concentrations. Yet, manufacturing firms are experiencing both serious shortages of highly skilled technicians and staggering projections of the “aging out” of their workforce. Production workers in advanced manufacturing fields are excellent candidates to address these shortages through higher education in STEM concentrations, as they are already familiar with the real-world applications of theory and have demonstrated interest in and ability to succeed in the manufacturing work environment.

However, most incumbent workers without a postsecondary degree have a difficult time attaining advanced skills due to job and family conflicts with the traditional delivery methods of postsecondary education. Innovative, flexible programs are needed, such as work-based learning, which utilizes real-world strategies to teach both applied and academic skills. Successful work-based learning requires professional development for manufacturing technology faculty on curriculum development and pedagogic techniques to assure that high academic standards are maintained while making community college credentials more accessible for incumbent workers.

With support from the National Science Foundation, Jobs for the Future is working with Owensboro Community and Technical College in Kentucky to adapt existing manufacturing courses to a delivery model that maximizes work-based learning. We are also partnering with WGBH to create a multimedia professional development toolkit to help community colleges offer work-based learning courses around the country.

Work-based learning treats the learner first as an employee rather than a student, while harnessing the potential for instruction and skill development inherent in a job itself. Assignments use actual work tasks and responsibilities to teach both applied and academic skills.

Key elements of work-based learning include:

  • Curriculum, teaching, learning, and assessment embedded within the work process for contextualized, hands-on applications of theory 
  • Emphasis on practical experience and reflective learning
  • Curriculum co-designed and taught by educators and employers 
  • Adult-orient teaching style including self-direction and critical thinking
  • Classroom, online, or hybrid instruction to supplement workplace learning as needed
  • Award of academic credit for demonstrated mastery of work activities that reflect specific competencies of course learning objectives


Owensboro Community and Technical College is offering its first work-based learning manufacturing class, Maintaining Industrial Equipment, as part of its spring 2014 semester. Because the course builds multiple skills across electrical and mechanical specialties, it can advance workers in a variety of manufacturing career pathways. The cohort draws students from several local manufacturing companies, and the course includes some customization for each participating employer. 

Jobs for the Future led supervisor and faculty training for all current and future course instructors in early 2014. This professional development opportunity ensures that the teaching team has a shared vision for each work-based learning course and will use the best instructional techniques for work-based learning.

The learning experiences of this cohort will serve as the basis of a multimedia toolkit developed by JFF and WGBH. Videos and interactive worksheets will guide community colleges through the development and delivery of work-based learning courses from program and curriculum design; to recruiting employers and students; to dual workplace and classroom instruction; to program evaluation. It will also help community colleges link work-based learning students to their other academic programs and maximize student success.