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Laying the foundation for the future of labor

February 24th, 2017

By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Growth in the manufacturing and construction sectors as well as the departure of baby boomers from the workforce have made recruitment efforts a top priority in northeast Indiana.

In the next 10 years, the number of jobs across all industries in the region is expected to grow by 9 percent, according to an analysis by Economic Modeling Specialists International. Figuring in growth and retirement, the region will need to hire up to 104,290 workers by 2026.

That’s a tall order, because in the last 10 years – a period of recession and recovery – the number of jobs in the region grew by 0 percent.

Some of the most demanding employment needs are in the skilled trades. The number of manufacturing jobs in the region is expected to grow by 12 percent.

Efforts are underway to recruit talent, raise awareness about the opportunities that are available and create a clear path for those interested in pursuing a career in the skilled trades.

“We shouldn’t be a secret”

Darryl Esterline, business representative of Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 and president of Northeast Indiana Building Trades, was recently appointed to Ivy Tech Community College Northeast’s Regional Board of Trustees.

He wants to generate additional exposure to nationally recognized apprenticeship programming partnership between Ivy Tech and many of the building trades. For years, the trades have relied on word of mouth and “sidewalk traffic” to fill apprenticeships. That’s not going to cut it anymore, Esterline said.

“Trades across the region are experiencing a significant difficulty in finding these replacement workers for this baby boom generation that’s retiring at alarming rates,” he said.

In addition to finding quality workers, the trades are turning their focus to recruiting diverse talent.

“We don’t look like our community,” Esterline said.

In order to change that, the building trades have undertaken initiatives to recruit women and people of color.

Stephanie Hilton, apprenticeship manager at Ivy Tech Community College, said that perception plays a huge role in recruiting people to the building trades. A big part of her job involves fielding questions about apprenticeship programs, and she’s often surprised by the misinformation she encounters.

“It’s amazing to me how many people don’t realize apprenticeships still exist,” she said.

Apprenticeship programs are typically three to five years of on-the-job and in-the-classroom training. Each accredited program participant earns while they learn and upon completion of their apprenticeship program with a trade, the individual receives an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College. Training is generally at no cost to the apprentice, which means the individual earns a degree with no student loan debt.

In addition to completing the program debt free, individuals who master their craft can expect to earn a salary between $40,000 and $49,000. Hilton jokingly tells people that apprenticeships are the best-kept secret.

“But we shouldn’t be a secret,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity that more people should be aware of.”

Esterline said that individuals who are interested in apprenticeship opportunities can contact Northeast Indiana Building Trades.

Regional efforts

Many of the skilled jobs that need to be filled in the region will be filled by adults who are already in the workforce, said Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works.

There are six adult education providers in the region that help people obtain their high school degree or equivalency and assist with other forms of career preparedness.

“Having a high school degree or equivalency is really your portal to a good-paying career,” he said.

In northeast Indiana, the median wage for all people with no high school degree is $22,381 a year. The median wage for all people with high school degree or equivalent is $35,693. Over the course of a 40-year career, the difference amounts to more than half a million dollars, he said.

One program geared toward recruiting talent to careers in manufacturing is the Manufacturing Entry Training Academy in Noble County. META is a certification-based training program that is designed to introduce unemployed and underemployed individuals who have little or no manufacturing experience to the county’s manufacturing industry. The free 42-hour, four-week class offers plant tours, class visits by manufacturers and instruction in areas including plant safety and quality control.

On Feb. 23, Northeast Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council and Northeast Indiana Works announced a free, three-week pre-apprenticeship program to open the door to more careers in the construction trades. The Building Futures program will provide training for 120 people throughout northeast Indiana. Classes will include instruction on communication, problem-solving, safety and health, blueprint reading, construction math, material handling, tool utilization and quality.

Students will have an opportunity to earn two industry-recognized certifications and complete Occupational Safety and Health Administration training. Esterline said people who complete the program will be better prepared to either go right to work in a construction occupation or apply for a full apprenticeship.

The program will debut April 10 in Allen County and eventually be offered to residents in other northeast Indiana counties.

Opening young minds to opportunities

In addition to recruitment efforts aimed at adults, making students aware of career opportunities in the skilled trades is a regional objective that has spurred sector partnerships between education and industry.

“One of the biggest challenges we see is creating awareness at fairly early ages among people that manufacturing and the skilled trades are a career option,” Esterline said.

In Allen County, local builders, contractors and unions stepped up to provide the labor, materials, supplies and equipment to create a lab last year for the new plumbing and HVAC program at Anthis Career Center. The project cost $150,000, said Principal Larry Gerardot.

The companies’ eagerness to help in part reflects the growing need for new workers to enter the construction trades, he said.

The center, which offers students the opportunity to earn dual college credit and entry-level certification for careers in construction and manufacturing, has been operating at maximum capacity the last few years, Geradot said.

In the last four years, the center has been able to place every senior who wanted to enter the workforce directly after high school with a company.

“I have people calling me from all over northeast Indiana wanting to know if we have any welders because it’s something that’s really needed in manufacturing,” he said.

Geradot said that parents and students don’t always know what today’s manufacturing and construction fields look like.

“The technology involved in those two fields has really increased,” he said.

However, high school counselors are beginning to look at skilled trades differently. Whereas before, seniors were primarily encouraged to pursue a four-year degree, today students are becoming aware that other options exist.

In the meantime, meetings with leaders of industry in manufacturing and construction continue to follow a similar theme, Gerardot said: They could expand their businesses if they could find employees with the basic skills required to enter these fields.

“It’s really important for our local economy, because if business can expand and grow, we’re going to have more good jobs out there that folks are going to be able to get. It’s just a win-win for everybody,” he said.