Industry, schools joining forces

September 24th, 2014

News Coverage:

Industry, schools joining forces

It seeks ways to more closely tie education to employers’ needs

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 11:00 pm | Updated: 6:19 am, Wed Sep 24, 2014.

By Barry Rochford

ALBION — Noble County manufacturers and educators took the first step Tuesday toward forging an alliance that would more closely align what students and adults learn at school, or through various training programs, with the job skills employers desire.

At the same time, it would work to change the perception of manufacturing to that of a well-paying, technologically advanced career option — particularly to high school graduates choosing not to enroll in college.

Representatives from area businesses, school corporations, vocational programs and workforce readiness organizations attended Tuesday’s meeting organized by the Noble County Economic Development Corp. and Northeast Indiana Works.

The issue is of particular importance in Noble County, where 58 percent of its total wages in 2013 were tied to manufacturing, according to data cited by the Noble County EDC and Northeast Indiana Works. Noble County also ranks eighth among all U.S. counties for the highest percentage of employment in manufacturing.

Manufacturing led Noble County — and northeast Indiana as a whole — out of the Great Recession, said Northeast Indiana Works President and CEO Kathleen Randolph. As the economy continues to improve, manufacturing companies are increasingly having problems finding and retaining workers with the appropriate skills.

“You’re of paramount importance because of the amount of manufacturing firms in the county,” Randolph told the group. Her organization operates WorkOne Northeast career centers and provides education and job training assistance to individuals in an 11-county area.

“We’re hiring a lot of people right now,” Gary Gatman, vice president of strategic initiatives at Northeast Indiana Works, said of employment activity within the region.

“Some employers will tell you they’re trying to hire a lot of people and are having difficulty hiring a lot of people.”

Efforts have been under way to address that gap. Northeast Indiana Works, for example, can pay 50 percent of an employee’s wages for companies taking advantage of its on-the-job training program. Also, its Skill-Link program crafts job training curricula tailored to employers’ needs for specific, credentialed occupations.

The organization soon will launch a “Made by Me” campaign to encourage students to consider manufacturing careers.

Another example is Central Noble High School’s partnership with Busche that exposes students to the Albion-based computer numerical control machining company and provides students with high school and college credit, and industry credentials through Conexus Indiana’s Hire Technology program. Conexus promotes the advanced manufacturing and logistics sectors in Indiana.

Programs like those are crucial to developing the workforce that employers need, but even more are needed, said organizers of Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at the Noble County Public Library.

“One of the things we know is we need more young people in the pipeline,” Gatman said.

Tuesday’s meeting could help lay the groundwork for making that happen. Rick Sherck, executive director of the Noble County Economic Development Corp., said by coming together, manufacturers and educators can see what each is doing and how they might assist one another.

Participants were asked to sign a pledge that states: “I will ensure the success of the manufacturing & education alliance.”

“The question I have for all of you is … Where do we go from here?” Sherck asked. “The conversation that we’re having here today is not happening in many communities.”

He said: “For me, this is a call to action. What are we going to do?”

Coming together

The next meeting about Noble County’s manufacturing and education alliance will be held at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27, at Impact Institute, 580 Fairview Blvd., Kendallville. For more information about the alliance, contact the Noble County Economic Development Corp. at 636-3800.