Analysis of Local Manufacturing Workforce in Northeast Indiana

May 1st, 2018

Training Opportunities, Credentials Critical to Manufacturing Industry

What’s happening with the local manufacturing workforce in Northeast Indiana? The Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute looked to answer that question with a panel discussion April 18 as part of Purdue Fort Wayne’s University Community Conversation (UC2) series on Factory Families. The panelists were Northeast Indiana Works President Edmond O’Neal, Northeast Indiana Partnership Vice President of Regional Initiatives Ryan Twiss and Blue Jacket Staffing Sales Coordinator Jarrod Williams.

Manufacturing remains a significant portion of Fort Wayne’s economy, making up about a quarter of the Fort Wayne metropolitan statistical area (MSA) gross domestic product (GDP) and almost twice the rate of the MSA average for the 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Furthermore, manufacturing makes up a larger share of metro Fort Wayne’s economy today than it did in 2000.

On the employment front, the number of Fort Wayne MSA manufacturing workers declined from 2005 to 2015 by almost 7 percent, yet these workers enjoy wages about 1/3 above the Fort Wayne MSA average.

Each of the panelists brought a unique perspective on the local manufacturing workforce, but all agreed on the need for skilled workers.

In O’Neal’s role at Northeast Indiana Works, he works with employers over an 11-county region with manufacturing being the largest sector and encourage workers to skill up, whether they are just entering the workforce or mid-career employees who want take on more responsibility.

Twiss looks at these workforce development and attraction issues on a regional scale with the Regional Partnership. Because five of the seven target industries in Northeast Indiana have a manufacturing focus, a robust workforce is needed to keep these employers in the area and hopefully have them expand operations and employment over time.

Although vehicles remain a substantial portion of the manufacturing base, it’s expanding to medical device, advanced materials, food and beverage production and design and craftsmanship.

Williams works with employers who are interested in hiring Blue Jacket clients who graduated from the program’s soft skills training. Although Blue Jacket started with serving those who had been incarcerated, it has expanded to anyone with barriers to employment. The agency places about 75 percent of clients in manufacturing or warehouse positions.

Manufacturing careers have a messaging issue, Twiss said. With the push for high school students to immediately attend college, many never set foot in a manufacturing facility or understand the need for technical skills.

Williams said there is a stigma with manufacturing for those students, and they need to understand career paths beyond assembler or production worker. Parents also need to understand that manufacturing has changed substantially since they may have worked in a factory decades ago, O’Neal said.

Skills and credentials are available both from employers and training providers like Ivy Tech or Anthis Career Center.

Williams said employers seeking skilled, credential workers for positions in short supply, like welding, may be willing to hire and train that employee if he or she has manufacturing experience and the necessary soft skills.

Twiss said manufacturing changed in the past decade with the Great Recession to reduce the number of truly unskilled assemblers to need people who “can fix anything,” noting that manufacturers who survived the economic downtown from about 2008 through 2010 can be considered advanced manufacturing. Employers will need to be willing to sufficiently pay for the labor, especially skilled workers, they need, he said.

O’Neal said new equipment arriving in local factories are likely not to have anyone trained to use them, thus those working at those facilities who have showed and interest and aptitude can be first ones certified to use them. Furthermore, those who were training on similar equipment may be nearing retirement, with few people in the pipeline to replace them.

With job openings in rural counties but a pool of potential workers in central Fort Wayne, Blue Jacket has started a transportation service to bring workers to these jobs, Williams said. It gives these workers jobs with solid wages, while reducing the labor shortage for employers.

For mid-career manufacturing workers looking to skill up and move into higher paying jobs, O’Neal advises them to visit a WorkOne Center, located in each of the 11 counties Northeast Indiana Works serves, to learn more about training opportunities and credentials that may be valuable for their career path. Skilling up during good economic times can make sense, especially if an employer offers tuition reimbursement.

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- By Rachel Blakeman, Director at Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute (CRI)

Categories & Tags Business ClimateTalent