Matching the student and the skill set

August 4th, 2017

Ivy Tech is perfectly positioned to help fill region's growing legion of middle-skill jobs

By Jerrilee Mosier of Ivy Tech Community College for The Journal Gazette

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing focus on “What is a college experience?” and “How do we define success for college students?”

Dan Greenstein, director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, argues that the widely believed perception of what constitutes a valued college education should change. The perception and understanding of college should extend to any completed postsecondary credential, from certificates to doctoral degrees. I couldn't agree more.

Instead of debating whether people need to attend college, Greenstein says we should be talking about the right type of postsecondary education for each person and occupation.

Today's student demographics – along with workforce realities – are disrupting the established concept of the one-size-fits-all idea of a college education.

Our collective interests as a community and country depend on a prepared workforce, since evidence supports that 60 percent of all jobs will require more than a high school degree, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree.

According to labor market predictions cited by Greenstein, the U.S. is expected to have a shortfall of 11 million credentialed workers by 2025. Closer to home in manufacturing-dense northeast Indiana, a recent Class of Worker report by EMSI, a medical information services provider, proposes more than 11,000 area positions will be available in the manufacturing and industrial technology fields within the next five years. This same report projects there will be at least 3,500 jobs in the health sciences and human services sectors.

The disparity between the number of skilled workers and employer needs can be alleviated, in part, by providing alternate postsecondary pathways to meaningful, well-paying careers. Many of these careers are regarded as middle-skill jobs – those that require more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree. These middle-skill jobs span the health care, manufacturing, information technology and other technology-related sectors.

Ivy Tech Community College is addressing these concerns statewide through a variety of strategies and industry partnerships that go beyond the institution's cornerstone model of offering on-campus and online higher education for job preparation or college transfer.

Through the Achieve Your Degree program, Ivy Tech collaborates with employers such as Parkview Health, Hendrickson Suspension in Kendallville and Martin Yale in Wabash. Through tuition reimbursement programs, these companies and Ivy Tech provide a convenient way for employees to earn postsecondary credentials and to advance their professional development.

Ivy Tech's apprenticeship programs are also developed in partnership with companies, but with a customized curriculum and identified competencies selected for specific job titles. Although it's not a new model, the program has grown significantly during the past seven years. Companies participating in this program include large corporations such as Dana, Goodrich and Eaton, as well as smaller companies like Rural Electric, Hudson Industries in Hudson, and Almco Steel in Bluffton.

Our Workforce Alignment personnel, in collaboration with Northeast Indiana Works and our local economic development agencies, partner with companies such as Ottenweller Inc., Fort Wayne Pools, and 80/20 Inc. by either arranging longer-term, curriculum-based training – such as the six-month Industrial Maintenance Training Program – or through shorter-term, on-site training in CNC machining, welding or leadership/supervision skills to upskill the talents of a consortia of employers' incumbent workers.

And finally, with input from industry advisory committees, Ivy Tech develops and implements new in-demand credentials. An example is advanced materials, one of the growth sectors for the region as identified by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. Industry representatives from companies such as Fort Wayne Metals recently assisted us in the development of a materials technology curriculum that will eventually be part of a larger partnership leading to a bachelor's degree.

Once the curriculum has been approved by the Indiana Department of Education, we hope to offer all coursework at our Fort Wayne campus.

With the unemployment rate in northeast Indiana at 2.9 percent or lower – below state and national averages – it is important for all of us to work together in numerous ways to develop, train, attract and retain citizens in high-demand career fields.

Partnerships with business and industry help increase the skills of our community and, in turn, keep our economy strong. Our continued growth and the vitality of northeast Indiana depend on it.

Jerrilee K. Mosier is chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College's Fort Wayne campus.