In the face of low unemployment rates and a statewide shortage of skilled workers, Ivy Tech Community College is partnering with local employers to equip students with skills they need to succeed in the manufacturing industry while also recruiting more job prospects into the local workforce.

With a local unemployment rate of a little more than 3 percent — which is essentially full employment of those interested in working — the leaders of some of Columbus’ largest manufacturers continue to struggle to find enough trained workers to meet production needs.

Before long, however, the need to find capable workers will increase even more.

About 4,000 to 4,500 jobs will need to be filled in the southeast region of Indiana between 2018 and 2019, said Kent Fuller, human resources manager for Caltherm, a Columbus firm that manufactures custom thermostatic engineering parts.

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Across the state, approximately one million jobs will need to be filled in the next 10 years, said Chris Lowery, chancellor of the Ivy Tech Columbus/Southeast Region.

Each year, about 70,000 students graduate from Indiana high schools, but about 25,000 of those students leave high school without a plan for their future, Lowery said. Further, about 750,000 Hoosiers across the state have some college education but no degree, which could be preventing them from pursuing jobs in the state’s fastest-growing fields, including advanced manufacturing, he said.

Together, the number of high school graduates with no concrete future plans and the number of Hoosiers with limited education could fulfill the state’s employment needs over the next decade, the chancellor said.

“We gotta grab every one of these people we can,” he said.

However, the challenge lies in equipping those potential workers with the skills they will need to succeed in the state’s growing industries, particularly the manufacturing, Lowery said.

To that end, Ivy Tech is working on three initiatives to recruit more students into degree programs that will fill the labor needs in Columbus, where manufacturing is the key industry, and other areas of the state.

Utilizing recruiters

The college is beginning its second year with high school recruiters. While recruiters do focus on bringing high school seniors onto the campus for their first year of college, the job was also created to help stream students into in-demand career pathways, Lowery said.Ivy Tech’s Pathways program is designed to lead students interested in a certain career field through their education and into their chosen field by equipping them with the basic skills, certifications or degrees they will need to succeed in that field.

Then, students can transfer credits earned from Ivy Tech to a four-year institution, where they can finish their four-year degree.

The high school recruiters serve as career counselors for prospective students to help them realize that there are other avenues toward a successful career that don’t involve following a traditional four-year plan, Lowery said.

That’s particularly important for graduating students who are skilled at hands-on work, but may not feel capable of succeeding in a traditional four-year institution, Fuller said.

If those students know there are other degree options that can lead them to their desired careers, they may be more inclined to continue in their education and get the skills needed to succeed in the manufacturing industry, he said. Similarly, Fuller said the Pathways programs often puts parents at ease by providing a definitive plan for their child’s education and eventual career.

Targeting adults

Secondly, Lowery said Ivy Tech has recently launched efforts to recruit adult workers to the campus as students.Many local workers have no advanced education or some education but no degree, which can limit their skills and impede earning potential, Lowery said.

Local manufacturers often offer tuition reimbursement programs that would allow employees to return to school at little to no cost to them, but those programs are largely underutilized, said Mike Galarno, Commercial Vehicle Exhaust plant manager for Faurecia, a global automotive supplier with two locations in Columbus.

Part of the reason many employees do not take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs is because no one asks them to, Lowery said.

So Ivy Tech has begun seeking out adult workers to let them know that there are opportunities to earn a degree from Ivy Tech that could lead to a raise and increased productivity — and even possible advancement — at work.

The southeast region of Ivy Tech recently received funding for those recruitment efforts, the chancellor said.

But Galarno said another reason many workers choose not to get further schooling is because they do not have the time to work, raise their families and go to school.

Employees often say that they cannot afford to take time off of work to go to class, Galarno said, but Lowery said there are other options to help employees juggle both their work and their education.

If manufacturing plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then Ivy Tech could do the same, Lowery said.

Steven Combs, president of the Ivy Tech Columbus campus, said in the past he has seen educational institutions offer third-shift classes to accommodate adult students’ work schedules. That style of education could be implemented on the Columbus campus to encourage manufacturing employees to attend classes and learn the skills employers need the most out of their workers, Combs said.

Bridging the gap

Finally, Lowery said the college is in the process of filling a new career development position to help students bridge the gap between their education and their careers.Rather than waiting until the end of their time at Ivy Tech to begin thinking about life after college, Lowery said the person in the career development position will be charged with helping students develop resumes, cover letters and interview techniques from the first moments they step on campus.

Local employers and industry leaders will be invited to help in that process by hosting mock interviews or other similar activities to help students — who are also prospective employees — hone the skills they will need to get a job in the manufacturing industry.

Leveraging partnerships

The key to each of these initiatives is successful partnerships between Ivy Tech and local employers, Lowery said.For example, Lowery said the idea of the career development position was born out of a conversation with Steve Pride, human resources director for Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, a large manufacturer of forklift equipment in Columbus.

Pride said Ivy Tech has always been cognizant of meeting the needs of local employers.

Rather than developing degree programs and then presenting those programs to manufacturing leaders, Pride said the college asks employers what their most pressing needs are, then develops educational programs based on those needs.

But Lowery said he wants to begin co-developing educational programs in tangent with manufacturers to ensure that the specific needs of each specific company are being met.

Additionally, the chancellor said he wants to begin recruiting industry experts as adjunct professors who can bring real-world experience into the classroom for students to learn from.

Outside of the college world, Pride said he thinks manufacturers would benefit from bringing more high school and even middle school students into their facilities so that they can see first-hand what it’s like to work in the industry and catch their interest early on.

Ivy Tech workforce development initiatives

While Ivy Tech Community College is constantly working with local employers to develop programs that will equip students with the skills they need to succeed in the local economy, chancellor Chris Lowery said there are three initiatives that are already in the works:

  1. High school recruiters. The recruiters will not only work to attract graduating seniors to Ivy Tech, but will provide career counseling for students looking for an alternative to a traditional four-year degree, such as the Pathways program.
  2. Adult workers. Many manufacturers offer tuition-reimbursement programs for employees who want to go back to school, but few employees take advantage of those program. Ivy Tech is working to recruit those employees and encourage them to get further their education and learn new skills that will increase their value.
  3. Career development. The school’s new career development specialist will work with students early in their time at Ivy Tech to develop resumes, cover letters and interview techniques that will enable them to get jobs in the city’s fastest-growing industries.
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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.