Community colleges foster racial and gender equity in the manufacturing workforce

Community colleges are working to reduce occupational segregation and increase diversity in the manufacturing workforce.
Blog Post
The Century Foundation and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance
June 29, 2022

Community colleges enroll a diverse student body in terms of race, gender, and age. Because of this, they have deep expertise in serving these communities. But many of the jobs colleges train for are intensely occupationally segregated.

Entry-level manufacturing salaries tend to be better than salaries in occupations like allied health or early childhood education.

But the manufacturing workforce is sixty-five percent White and seventy percent male with management jobs skewed even more White.

That spells trouble both for the diverse students who could find economic security from quality manufacturing careers and for employers struggling to diversify the profession all while facing an aging workforce comprised mostly of white males.

To help address occupational segregation, the Lumina Foundation has sponsored The Century Foundation and Urban Manufacturing Alliance to join forces with twelve community colleges with the goal of equipping Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous Americans with 2,000 manufacturing credentials by September 2023. The colleges are:

The programs these colleges are creating will be designed to address occupational segregation in manufacturing by better understanding how colleges can utilize strategies such as trauma-informed care (also adapted to teaching), cultural competency, and racially conscious industry partnerships.

A new interim report from the partners shares insights about how Black workers in particular are under-represented in the manufacturing industry and the significant occupational segregation in the sector.

I sat down with Michelle Burris (@MichellePBurris), Fellow, and Andrew Stettner (@Pelhamprog), Senior Fellow, both at The Century Foundation as well as Tanu Kumar (@UMfgAlliance) from the Urban Manufacturing Alliance Advisory Board for an interview to learn more.

What are the major takeaways from the colleges in the Industry and Inclusion cohort so far?

Four months into the project, the team has discussed a variety of questions relating to a diverse manufacturing workforce including how colleges can identify and vet like-minded employer partners for the racially conscious partnership since not all manufacturing employers are equally committed to putting in the necessary effort for such partnerships.

The team and the cohort have also addressed how to train faculty to teach in a trauma-informed manner and how to recruit diverse students into an occupation that doesn’t look like them, especially at the top.

The team believes that equitable pathways into manufacturing jobs will require a shift around the “skills mismatch” narrative. Instead, “ecosystem partners” including community colleges, employers, and intermediaries must focus on improving worker training and education as well as job quality for racial minorities once on the job.

How have community colleges fostered racial equity in their manufacturing workforce programs?

Northland Workforce Training Center Manufacturing Student.jpg

The Greater Niagara Manufacturing Association and the Northland Workforce Training Center built a multi-million dollar facility on the east side of Buffalo, New York which is ninety-one percent Black and has a median household income $8,000 lower than the rest of western New York. The facility houses the state Manufacturing Extension Partnership office as well as space for the center and employers to train incumbent and new workers allowing more Black prospective students to gain exposure to manufacturing jobs.

Baton Rouge Community College’s North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative engages employers and community-based organizations to pursue racially conscious industry partnerships together.

Bishop State Community College’s Girls Learning About Manufacturing (GLAM) mentorship program exposes girls of color to manufacturing careers. This is an urgent issue as women’s employment in manufacturing has declined to thirty percent. The program assists young women with career pathways in manufacturing with a focus on cultivating belonging.

What should community colleges do to foster racial and gender equity in the manufacturing workforce?

Community colleges should hire more Black, Latinx, and women faculty in their manufacturing programs. Having faculty who are culturally competent and diverse can help to recruit and retain underrepresented students. For example, recognizing that less than four percent of welders are women, Sierra College in California hired women welding instructors and focused on building male allyship. Community colleges should also provide dedicated equity-focused marketing funds or airtime for their manufacturing programs and consider more programming within diverse communities.

What should policy leaders do to help community colleges foster racial and gender equity in the manufacturing workforce?

Policymakers should fund sectoral partnerships between industry partners and community colleges and require equity metrics to track whether and how federal fund recipients are recruiting racially and gender-diverse students from community colleges. The Department of Labor should track outcomes on employment and completion and disaggregate the data by race and gender.

Shalin Jyotishi is a Senior Analyst on Education and Labor at New America and a Fellow in AI the World Economic Forum covering higher education, the workforce, tech, and policy. Connect with Shalin on Twitter and LinkedIn. Read his Forbes column.

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Related Topics
College and Career Readiness Racial Equity Workforce Development & CTE