Striving to reach a bold goal

May 20th, 2012

News Coverage:

Published: May 20, 2012 3:00 a.m.


Striving to reach a bold goal

When Fort Wayne Metals hires a new employee, it begins with 100 applications and discards 50, eliminated because they are illegible or incomplete. Another 40 applicants are screened out by aptitude tests designed to measure critical-thinking ability and other skills. The final 10 are interviewed, and a single candidate is hired.

Mark Michael, president and chief operating officer, said Fort Wayne Metals follows the exhaustive steps because it needs employees with the right skills. The approach is working: The thriving medical-wire company has added 100 workers over each of the past two years and plans to do the same this year.

But continuing to find qualified candidates from a pool where half are eliminated from the start presents an inevitable roadblock. That’s why Michael is backing an ambitious new goal – The Big Goal – of ensuring 60 percent of northeast Indiana residents have a degree or certification by 2025.

Previous efforts to develop a skilled workforce have focused on job retraining and helping area high schools develop 21st-century skills, primarily through project-based learning and New Tech high school models.

Leonard Helfrich, who coordinates those efforts as director of the Talent Initiative, said a meeting to discuss the overarching goal found about 25 people pushing specific projects.

“We realized that instead we needed to come up with the goal and then build strategies toward that goal,” he said. “While we were examining that, we began looking around at various models.”

They landed on the Strive Initiative, a program earning great acclaim for improving student achievement in Cincinnati and its neighboring communities of Newport and Covington, Ky.

“(Strive’s) approach attempts to coordinate every service and support that children and adolescents need, at every stage of their education and development,” according to a November report from Education Sector.

Jeff Edmondson, director of the Strive Network, describes a framework based on shared community vision, evidence-based decisions, collaborative action, and investment and sustainability. In this region community members will work in early learning, K through Grade 8, high school and post-secondary education. Each will have specific tasks and measurable outcomes toward the final goal.

The initiative is promising in its comprehensive approach. The early learning piece – already expanding to consider prenatal health – has been ignored for too long, and collaboration between K-12 schools and post-secondary schools has improved but must be stronger.

The Big Goal offers a big reward, as Fort Wayne Metals’ Michael points out. Nurturing a skilled workforce from cradle to career is a key to a better northeast Indiana.