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CTE Career Clusters | Manufacturing

What Are the Manufacturing Career Pathways?

June 20th, 2023 | 7 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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If you teach CTE in high school, chances are you’ll be tasked with teaching courses across the Manufacturing career pathways. After all, many students pursue careers in the manufacturing industry after graduation.

However, you might not be sure what exactly is involved in teaching and working in this career cluster. What pathways and jobs are available, and why is it important for students to consider career opportunities in manufacturing?

In this post, you'll find answers to three of the most basic questions concerning Manufacturing career pathways:

  • What Is the Manufacturing Career Cluster?
  • Why Is This Career Cluster Important?
  • What Are the Manufacturing Career Pathways?

After reviewing this article, you should have a better idea of what is involved in the Manufacturing career cluster so you can assist learners in finding the right opportunities for their skills and interests.

What Is the Manufacturing Career Cluster?

The Manufacturing career cluster is one of 16 clusters in career and technical education (CTE). Manufacturing careers take raw materials and turn them into intermediate or final products. Professionals in this industry oversee the entire production process through planning, managing, and executing manufacturing, as well as providing ongoing maintenance and technical support.

The field of manufacturing typically involves using highly specialized knowledge of a set of processes and techniques to generate products. These products then go on to be used in other industries and by businesses and consumers. As trained manufacturing professionals, CTE graduates in manufacturing plan and control production to ensure employee and consumer safety, quality control, and sustainable success.

Students with a wide range of skills and abilities can find success in the Manufacturing cluster. Students who enjoy working directly with materials or operating machinery can do well in the physical production of final and intermediate goods. Learners who cultivate technical knowledge are likely to succeed in the design, planning, and engineering aspects of manufacturing. And those with a keen eye for detail could be drawn to work in areas like maintenance, quality assurance, and health and safety.

Why Is This Career Cluster Important?

The Manufacturing career cluster provides the resources and materials necessary for society. Through their work in planning, executing, and maintaining the process of transforming raw materials into finished goods, workers in manufacturing careers touch countless lives by making the creation of millions of everyday products possible.

There is scarcely a product available today that does not require some degree of skilled labor in manufacturing. From the design and engineering of digital technology to the creation and maintenance of advanced machinery, manufacturing professionals work on the front lines of innovation and ingenuity.

Manufacturing encompasses many trades, such as milling and welding, but also the practical planning and logistics behind the major materials fabrication operations throughout the United States and around the world.

Simply put, careers in the manufacturing pathway are paramount to maintaining the world’s infrastructure. When learners pursue manufacturing opportunities, they will have a unique influence on the development and success of their communities.

Whether working in a planning or development pathway or dealing with safety or logistics, manufacturing careers provide students an equal opportunity to play a valuable and necessary role in the advancement of numerous industries.

What Are the Manufacturing Career Pathways?

The Manufacturing cluster contains six career pathways. When students select a pathway, they choose a CTE concentration to prepare themselves for specific careers in the manufacturing process.

The six pathways include:

  1. Production Pathway
  2. Manufacturing Production Process Development Pathway
  3. Maintenance, Installation, and Repair Pathway
  4. Quality Assurance Pathway
  5. Logistics and Inventory Control Pathway
  6. Health, Safety, and Environmental Assurance Pathway

Each path begins with the same core courses, such as Principles of Manufacturing. From there, students complete coursework to refine their understanding of a specialized skill set. Let's look more closely at what each pathway includes and the opportunities students can pursue.

Production Pathway

The pathway most associated with work in manufacturing is Production. The Production pathway includes the assembly and operation of machinery involved in manufacturing. The type of machinery can vary, but each requires a specialized set of CTE skills.

According to Advance CTE, examples of manufacturing careers within the Production pathway include:

  • Assembler
  • Bookbinder
  • Calibration Technician
  • Foundry Worker
  • Instrument Maker
  • Medical Appliance Maker
  • Millwright
  • Painter
  • Sheet Metal Worker
  • Welder

For production careers, the level of education varies based on the job. Many careers include on-the-job training to help students understand and succeed using an industry’s highly specialized equipment and machinery.

Manufacturing Production Process Development Pathway

Careers in the Manufacturing Process Development pathway address the planning, design, and engineering involved in successful manufacturing operations. These professionals manage the systems required to manufacture materials, including monitoring and improving production over time.

Opportunities in this pathway include:

  • Design Engineer
  • Electrical and Electronics Technician and Technologist
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Labor Relations Manager
  • Manufacturing Technician/Engineer
  • Power Generating and Reactor Plant Operator
  • Process Improvement Technician
  • Production Manager
  • Purchasing Agent
  • Supervisor

These careers vary in the amount of education necessary. However, most higher-level positions, such as engineering roles, require a minimum of a college degree.

Maintenance, Installation, and Repair Pathway

Manufacturing equipment often requires skilled labor to maintain and repair. People pursuing careers in this pathway perform preventative maintenance and repair broken systems and equipment as appropriate.

Examples of jobs in the Maintenance, Installation, and Repair pathway include:

  • Biomedical Equipment Technician
  • Boilermaker
  • Communication System Installer/Repairer
  • Computer Maintenance Technician
  • Industrial Machinery Mechanic
  • Instrument Control Technician
  • Job/Fixture Designer
  • Laser Systems Technician
  • Maintenance Repairer
  • Plumber, Pipefitter, and Steamfitter

For these careers, the level of education varies substantially. While some jobs may require a four-year degree, only a two-year degree is necessary for many. In other fields, students can seek industry employment directly out of high school.

Quality Assurance Pathway

A crucial step in every manufacturing process is quality control. Professionals in the Quality Assurance pathway ensure that both the final product and the processes that result in an end product meet the highest standards of excellence.

Workers in this pathway pursue one of several careers:

  • Calibration Technician 
  • Inspector
  • Lab Technician
  • Process Control Technician
  • Quality Control Technician
  • Quality Engineer
  • SPC Coordinator

Regardless of the amount of education needed, every career in the Quality Assurance pathway requires professionals who are attentive, detail-oriented, and passionate about maintaining and improving a first-rate product.

Logistics and Inventory Control Pathway

Manufacturing typically involves transporting, storing, and distributing large quantities of materials. Career opportunities in the Logistics and Inventory Control pathway concentrate on the systems that make moving materials possible.

Professions in this pathway include:

  • Communications, Transportation, and Utilities Manager
  • Dispatcher
  • Freight, Stock, and Material Mover
  • Industrial Truck and Tractor Operator
  • Logistical Engineer/Logistician
  • Material Handler/Mover
  • Process Improvement Technician
  • Traffic Manager
  • Traffic, Shipping, and Receiving Clerk

Most careers in the Logistics and Inventory Control pathway require some additional training. For example, individuals operating trucks and other heavy machinery must earn an additional driver’s or operator’s license. New employees can sometimes earn these licenses through on-the-job training.

Health, Safety, and Environmental Assurance Pathway

The final pathway in the Manufacturing CTE career cluster addresses the need to create and maintain a safe workplace environment for everyone. These careers also manage and remediate concerns when a workplace falls short of health and occupational safety standards.

Careers in the Health, Safety, and Environmental Assurance Pathway include:

  • Environmental Engineer
  • Environmental Specialist
  • Health and Safety Representative
  • Safety Coordinator
  • Safety Engineer
  • Safety Team Leader
  • Safety Technician

Some careers in this pathway necessitate learning specialized knowledge related to health and environmental safety. Every career requires an understanding of the regulatory standards that support workplace safety.

Help Your Students Succeed in Manufacturing Careers

Even though the Manufacturing career cluster is just one of 16 CTE clusters, students who pursue careers in these fields can have a profound impact on other industries and their communities.

Through reading this article, you’ve learned more about the Manufacturing career pathways and how they play a fundamental role in nearly every segment of society. The six pathways are each important in different portions of the Manufacturing process, from planning to maintenance and oversight. Finally, you’ve learned about the wide range of careers learners choose within each path.

However, no matter which career pathways your students choose, it’s important to teach them with a curriculum that meets their needs. A comprehensive curriculum like iCEV includes everything you need to teach courses in architecture, construction, and manufacturing to help learners succeed.

Discover the classes you can teach with iCEV by visiting the Manufacturing curriculum page. You’ll learn more about iCEV and the courses offered to determine if it’s right for you and your students.

Discover the Architecture, Construction, & Manufacturing Curriculum