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Merriam-Webster defines “standards” as “a level of quality or achievement that is considered acceptable or desirable.” In educational circles, “standards” are often another term for accountability. However, the term “standards” carries a more complex meaning for those involved with workforce training and technical assessments.

But, you may be wondering—what are standards doing in an article about the skills gap?

At Nocti Business Solutions, we believe industry standards—and the certifications based on those standards—will play a pivotal role in how companies address the skilled worker shortage and how we will move the needle on closing the skills gap.

State of the Skills Gap

The skills gap is most prevalent in the manufacturing sector but exists in any industry that requires skilled workers.

  • The U.S. manufacturing sector will have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030.
  • 69% of employers are having difficulty filling jobs.
  • 52% of jobs require skills training beyond a high school diploma, and only 43% of workers meet the necessary training level.

In addition, COVID has created shortages in our workforce and stronger competition for talented workers. Because of their intense need, some employers may skip important steps in the hiring process that they would not normally consider. Other companies have tried to compensate with higher salaries and hiring incentives. While these strategies may yield short-term results, they do not guarantee a worker has the necessary skillset and may end up increasing the risk of making a bad hire.

The Anatomy of a Standard

For many years, societies have sought to categorize occupational specialties. In 1938, the US Department of Labor began publishing the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which was eventually replaced with an online database Occupational Information Network or the O*NET. Along with categorizing jobs, each job was also broken down into components. This dissection has come to be known as a job and task analysis.

The critical duties and skills needed to perform the job are documented during the job and task analysis process. Types of equipment used, processes performed, materials, or parts of a system or structure all can be used in this classification. The major areas determined by the job and task analysis are known as the standards within a particular job. Each standard is then divided into smaller components known as competencies or tasks.

For example, standards in the field of precision machining are based on an individual’s ability to operate several types of equipment. One standard is Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Operations. A competency within the CNC Operations standard might be reading and writing basic G and M codes. For a precision machinist to be deemed “job ready”, they would be expected to perform all competencies in all standards within their occupation to a specified level.

According to an article from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, “standards helped modern industries achieve economies of scale, boost efficiencies in production, and increase safety for workers and consumers across the world. Without standards, industries built on complex technological infrastructure would lack key operational characteristics that ensure smooth transactions between companies and their customers.”

Standards & Skills Assessments

Because industry standards define specific competencies, they are closely tied to certifications and credentials. Without the foundation of industry standards, a credential for small engine repair or industrial maintenance would hold far less value.

To certify that workers can meet the standard, employers need a way to measure skills or competencies. A skills assessment evaluates a potential or current worker’s skill according to the industry-defined standard. These assessments help determine if test-takers have the necessary technical knowledge and skills to perform the job.

The benefits of skills assessments go far beyond simply measuring competency. Employers can:

  • Reduce the risk of making a bad hire by ensuring potential candidates have the skills and knowledge for the job.
  • Lessen the overall time to hire.
  • Objectively narrow down a list of candidates.
  • Create a more legally defensible hiring process.
  • Focus training and development on areas where a worker may need improvement.

Industry standards and the skills gap both exist as part of the same labor ecosystem. Standards are created (with the help of subject matter experts) to catalog competencies needed for specific jobs. These competencies are used to develop skills assessments to accurately and reliably measure a worker’s skills. Employers can then use these assessments as hiring and training tools to help fill open positions and build a skilled workforce.

New Tech & Evolving Standards

Industry standards will be updated and revised as technology advances. In some cases, new standards will need to be developed. For example, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) has helped set quality standards for frontline production workers in advanced manufacturing. With help from Nocti Business Solutions, MSSC has also developed stackable certifications that offer workers to demonstrate they have the skills for the technology-intensive jobs of the 21st century.

Not only has the pandemic intensified certain skills gaps, but it has also accelerated the development of more advanced technology. As standards evolve, we expect to see changes in three main areas:

  • Addressing increasing safety concerns
  • Developing more precise definitions for skills needed for a position and the quality of work being done.
  • Standardizing processes and technology, especially around interoperability for new tech

Start Building a Skilled Workforce

NBS has been helping companies solve their workforce challenges for over 20 years. One of the ways we accomplish this is by helping employers accurately identify workers’ skills and knowledge with technical skills assessments and pre-employment tests. Our assessments are not “self-validating”, but instead are founded on industry standards developed by subject matter experts and organizations like MSSC. With over 170 assessments available across every industry, we help employers ensure they fill open positions with the most qualified candidates.

We take pride in finding the right solution for your business. Sometimes that solution is an “off-the-shelf” pre-employment test in a technical area, sometimes it is a customized credential, and sometimes it may be a brand-new system for certifying new technicians for tomorrow’s workplace. If this sounds like the kind of relationship your company needs to move forward, reach out, and we’d be happy to talk!