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Companies that face a growing gap between business needs and employee skills made up some ground this week in efforts to develop qualified candidates, particularly in mechanical engineering.
Representatives of Cummins Inc., Faurecia and Honda made such comments during Thursday’s Community Ed Fest, where they connected with people interested in developing mechanical engineering skills to land well-paying jobs.
IUPUC, Purdue College of Technology and Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin hosted the education and career festival for the second straight year to strengthen the link between what employers want and what prospective students need in terms of education.
Taylor Johnson wants a mechanical engineering job at Cummins Inc.
But to achieve that goal, the 17-year-old Dearborn County resident will need to obtain the technical skills the Columbus-based engine company wants in its employees. That means finding the right college with the right programs.
Johnson thinks Purdue College of Technology or IUPUC in Columbus can give him what he needs.
John Marcum of Columbus also spoke with Purdue College of Technology about his desire to go back to school in the spring for mechanical engineering.
Marcum is a line worker at Rightway Fasteners in Columbus. But with a mechanical engineering degree, he knows he could get a better job and earn a lot more money.
Cummins has immediate openings for mechanical engineering technicians, which are among the most difficult jobs to fill because of a lack of skilled workers, said Steve Mackey, learning development leader for Cummins’ Southern Indiana Operations.
He said those technicians must have extensive training in diesel engine technology and be able to diagnose and analyze.
Holly Kuznicki, Southern Indiana placement services manager for Cummins, spoke to people who stopped by her booth about how they can obtain those kinds of skills.
For Johnson, who is interested in mechanical engineering, she recommended and Purdue College of Technology.
“There are certainly plenty of opportunities, and of course we’re hiring,” Kuznicki said.
She said Cummins also hires a lot of employees trained at IUPUC.
The Greensburg Honda plant and Faurecia, which manufactures door panels and various other interior and exterior components for the auto industry, also needs mechanical engineers.
Jeff Thompson, human resources recruiter for Honda’s Decatur County location, said he conveyed to people who stopped by his booth that Honda needs people who can maintain and repair high-tech equipment. He recommended Ivy Tech and Purdue College of Technology as the best choices locally to obtain those lucrative skills.
“What we really need are workers who can do it all, from assembly line processes to robotics and everything in between,” Thompson said.
Stephanie Weber, community and outreach coordinator for EcO15, a local initiative to improve education, estimated the crowd at the Community Ed Fest at 1,000, similar to last year. She said organizers had hoped for 1,500, but thought rain earlier in the day might have hurt attendance.
Organizers distributed promotional material to a 10-county region this year, which led to people of all ages attending from well outside Bartholomew County. Last year, the materials went out only in Bartholomew County.
Regardless, Weber said the event accomplished what was intended and money was well spent for the Community Education Coalition, a nonprofit organization working to help prepare local students for well-paying jobs.
The coalition and its partners have set a goal of raising college-degree fulfillment in Columbus from about 40 percent of adults now to about 60 percent, although a specific timeline has not been set to achieve that goal.
Kristen Brown, who made an address to open the event, emphasized that Columbus is Indiana’s fastest growing community in terms of jobs, as well as a leader in job growth nationally. She pointed to a widening gap, however, in providing enough trained candidates for employer demands. She contends that Columbus is equipped to address that issue with its locally based colleges.
College representatives used event booths to explain to prospective students what programs and degrees they offer. Representatives of companies, meanwhile, informed attendees what kinds of skills workers need and which local colleges could help fulfill them.
Honda’s Thompson, who talked to mostly college-age visitors during Thursday’s event, said he wishes more high school students would have stopped by his booth. In the future, he hopes organizers will reach out even more to the high schools to generate interest at that level.
Tracie Kimmet, talent acquisitions manager for Faurecia’s North American operation, who attended the event, said Faurecia’s need for mechanical engineers is secondary to its need to educate people about the company.
She said many people don’t realize that Faurecia has a global presence that extends far beyond the borders of Columbus. She said Faurecia has nearly endless advancement opportunities for its workers.
She thinks Faurecia strengthened its ties to the region by taking part in the event.
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