Efforts to strengthen the Jennings County workforce and help residents prepare for their own economic futures involves a year-long series of events organized by the Jennings County Economic Development Commission.

Its Engagement and Workforce Program begins each year in January and runs throughout the year. Events include visits to businesses and colleges, job and career fairs, a course in entrepreneurship, lectures for female students interested in engineering, speakers for selected career fields and even a LEGO robotics summer camp.

“We are doing this because we want our young people to know the opportunities that are here in their own community, and hope they will want to stay here. But, we also want to help them prepare for a sound economic future where ever their plans lead them,” said Kathy Ertel, director of the Jennings County Economic Development Commission.

The program has grown each year since it began six years ago, and the inaugural Manufacturing Day on Oct. 19 was a prime example of the growth of the program, said Trish Speer, Ertel’s assistant. More than 400 eighth-grade students were bused to eight industrial sites in the county.

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“We have been talking about this for several years but we didn’t know if it would work but it was a huge success and we will be doing it every year,” Speer said.

The students visited Martinrea International, Decatur Mold, Decatur Plastics, Biehle Electric, GT Industries, Erler Industries, Exegistics and Lowe’s. Representatives at each site visited with the students, provided demonstrations, and answered questions. The Jennings County Community Foundation provided lunch for all of the students.

“There were a lot of good questions from the students and I think the day really opened the eyes of a lot of students. Before Manufacturing Day, most of the students had never been on the inside of any industry. Now they have an idea of the different kinds of jobs that are available and what is needed to prepare for them,” Speer said.

The economic development commission also conducts other smaller tours of industries for students with specific interests throughout the year.

On Oct. 26, the commission organized and sponsored a large college expo for Jennings County High School juniors and seniors. More than 33 colleges and universities participated in the event in the high school’s auxiliary gym.

“This is the third year for the college expo and it has been worth the effort. The students had a good opportunity to get a close look at what the different schools had to offer,” Speer said.

The commission also conducts small tours throughout the year to Indiana University in Bloomington, Purdue University in Lafayette and IUPUC and Ivy Tech in Columbus.

Other events designed to expand student preparedness for the workforce are held for elementary, junior high and high school students.

“We couldn’t do any of this without the cooperation and support from the school system and all of our sponsors. This is truly a community endeavor to ready our youth for their futures,” Ertel said.