Alliance will work to bring manufacturing into schools

January 15th, 2015

News Coverage:

Alliance will work to bring manufacturing into schools

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 11:00 pm | Updated: 6:51 am, Thu Jan 15, 2015.

By Barry Rochford

KENDALLVILLE — An alliance of businesses and educators in Noble County will undertake a series of initiatives in the coming months to raise awareness among local students of manufacturing as a rewarding career that pays well and requires high-tech skills.

Its initial effort will be to get manufacturers into Noble County schools so students, their parents, teachers and school counselors gain a better understanding of what the businesses do, the kinds of workers they’re looking to hire and the opportunities available in manufacturing.

The manufacturing and education alliance was formed last fall by the Noble County Economic Development Corp. and Northeast Indiana Works in response to local companies’ difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled employees.

Manufacturing comprises Noble County’s largest employment sector, accounting for 58 percent of the wages paid in 2013, according to figures provided by Northeast Indiana Works, which operates WorkOne Northeast career centers in an 11-county area, and offers high school equivalency and job training assistance.

The goal of the alliance is to connect manufacturers and educators so they can work cooperatively in helping prepare the workforce of the future.

“There are jobs for (students) here. We just need to work in helping them understand where those are,” said East Noble School Corp. Superintendent Ann Linson at a meeting of the alliance Wednesday at Impact Institute’s Fairview Boulevard location in Kendallville.

But there are other benefits to connecting manufacturers and schools, such as helping students understand the real-world application of what they learn in classrooms.

“You are as important to training and educating our kids as a math book or science book,” Linson told representatives of manufacturing companies at Wednesday’s meeting.

Added Jim Walmsley, director of the Impact Institute, which provides vocational programs and adult education classes: “If they can make that connection, that could very well change the direction of their life.”

Getting local manufacturers into schools could involve having company representatives participate in classroom activities, having local business success stories speak to students and inviting students on tours of manufacturing facilities.

That could then lead to internships at manufacturing companies or possible part-time employment for Noble County students.

Getting students to visit companies could also change the perception of manufacturing jobs being dirty or involving menial tasks.

“A lot of kids think that going to work in manufacturing is like going to the dungeon. And I don’t think it’s like that anymore,” said Greg Salway, COO of Reliable Production Machining and Welding in Kendallville. The company makes products for the recreational vehicle, marine, agricultural implement, heavy-duty construction and trailer industries.

Other initiatives for the manufacturing and education alliance as it moves forward would be to develop a rewards program for students who exhibit a strong work ethic, and creating an externship program that places teachers and school counselors at local manufacturers so they can gain firsthand experience of the work done there and then carry that information back to students in their classrooms.

Said Gary Gatman, vice president of strategic initiatives at Northeast Indiana Works: “This is Year 1, but I think this is a multiyear effort.”