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From Site Selection magazine, January 2016

‘Make it Less Murky’

Workforce credentials are the new currency of site location success.


It’s time to take your HR manager to lunch. He or she will soon be a very close ally in your efforts to supply workforce intelligence to the group deciding where your next personnel-heavy facility will go. Availability of skilled or at least trainable workers tops most lists of site criteria, and your HR department is probably already wading through the various resources areas and organizations are making available to quantify skillsets at your disposal.

I recommend you add “credentialing” to your professional lexicon, because you will be learning a lot about it in the coming months — just as I am. In short, competency-based credentials increasingly are being used to complement academic degrees and diplomas as tools with which to assess skills availability. Excellent work is well under way in the manufacturing, energy, IT and others sectors — meaning credentialing frameworks are in place to help employers get a better sense of just who the workers really are when an area touts its workforce.

But the landscape is changing quickly. The frameworks are evolving. Some of them overlap. Stakeholders include professional associations, higher education institutions, foundations, labor organizations, think tanks and others. Private-sector employers will benefit handsomely from the work these groups are engaged in, as will your future workforce. So it’s time to learn what they’re up to.

Start with, the website managed by the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) and the Center for Law and Social Policy, with support from the Lumina Foundation. More than 90 co-sponsoring organizations are involved in Connecting Credentials, an initiative to foster a national dialogue on credentialing.

“Companies and workers today live in an economy where the most well understood credentials are degrees, especially bachelor’s degrees. And yet what’s mushrooming in the marketplace are almost a gazillion certificates and industry certifications and occupational licenses and even people doing work on microcredientials,” says Larry Good, chair, co-founder and senior policy fellow at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Corporation for a Skilled Workforce. “We’re making those easier to understand and translate with each other.”

In the context of site location, says Good, when people do the math on an area’s talent base – high school completion, college degrees – what’s missing in the data sets is other credentials. “Industries that are smart about that, like the IT industry, have platform-specific and other certifications. Healthcare has well-defined certification standards. But many industries don’t — their credentialing requirements are murky right now. Policy work we’re doing is to make it less murky.”


Site Selection’s second annual state workforce development rankings are intended to provide a general sense of which states in a given region are devoting sufficient or superior resources to preparing their workforces for current and future employment. They do not factor in success rates of specific state worker training programs, incentives or other tools. The rankings incorporate three measures that can be applied to all 50 states. Each measure is weighted one third:

  • State funding expenditures for workforce preparation and development as a percentage of total economic development expenditures, fiscal year 2015, from the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (;
  • The Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness component of Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation (; and
  • Total ACT National Career Readiness Certificates per 18 to 65 population (

The goal is transparency, says Good, to make credentials understandable, to make it easier for employers to use them and for learners to use them going forward. “There is no question that the jobs of the 21st century require knowledge and skills that go beyond what you get completing high school. Employers will need new and different skills as processes change and new dynamics come into play. It’s a lifelong learning process that is real now and not just rhetoric. We and others are encouraging companies to be much clearer on what the skills, knowledge and competencies are that they require in different positions and how they communicate that in the market. There needs to be a greater clarity of interchange between employers and workers and more agility in that process so that, for instance, companies don’t lose out on accessing workers with the competencies they require.”

Homework assignment: Download and read two excellent white papers at CSW’s website, Making a Market for Competency-Based Credentials and Competency-Based Credentials Case Studies. Your familiarity with these concepts will impress even your HR manager.

Manufacturers’ Head Start

The Manufacturing Institute is at the forefront of efforts to close the skills gap in the US and is a leading authority on credentials, with a framework of its own and deep ties to many in business and industry working on solutions in this critical area.

“The workforce criterion manufacturers are currently using, such as sheer numbers or high school graduation rates, is not truly a reflection of the market need, hence our approach from a manufacturing perspective to look at industry-based certifications as a different metric that validates someone to a standard not set by academia,” says Jennifer McNelly, the Institute’s executive director.

What do real estate managers and site selectors need to know as they start climbing the credentialing learning curve?

“Most employers don’t know these tools are out there,” says McNelly. “Certainly in manufacturing, everything is defined to a standard in every arena except human capital development. We think about the need for manufacturers to be actively engaged in the management of that supply chain and the role that industry credentials plays in ensuring a level of consistency and quality.”

Companies routinely look at an areas and what they think they need, at basic available education-attainment metrics, and the ability of the community to train people. Industry credentials ensure a better-quality candidate at the outset. “It’s ultimately an employer’s responsibility to train a worker their way. But there are huge disconnects between what someone says in a job posting and whether or not that’s a demonstration of someone’s competencies in a manufacturing environment,” McNelly points out.

The Institute endorses 14 assessment organizations of interest to manufacturers, all of which is accessible at “Eighty percent of manufacturers need the same foundations, and these assessments cover the majority of that,” she notes. It’s the other 20 percent that manufacturers are struggling with. “Manufacturers need to come together at the community level to work that out.”

Both The Manufacturing Institute and ACT, Inc. (which certifies work-ready communities and administers the National Career Readiness Certificates program among other things) are commencing pilot programs around the US to do just that. The Institute already is working with manufacturers on the community level along these lines — in Louisville, Ky., for example, with leadership from GE Appliances. Look for more on those initiatives and regular progress reports in Site Selection articles later this year.

“We would love to see the site selection community be part of the enhancement of getting employers to ask for more than the basics,” says McNelly.

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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