Education, workforce initiatives get boost

The EcO Network of Southeast Indiana has an important mission: ensure a system of learning exists in a 10-county region that enables individuals to advance their level of education, training or job.

Better educated and trained workers is the goal, so employees can earn higher wages and experience a greater quality of life and employers can meet their needs.

That mission makes a $1.8 million state grant from the Skill UP Indiana program a perfect partnership of the two initiatives.

Skill UP, a program of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, is designed to increase skill attainment and exposure to job opportunities in order to fill an estimated 1 million jobs in the Hoosier workforce by 2025.

The EcO Network — which serves Bartholomew, Jackson and Jennings counties, among others — was launched in 2007 under the name Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015, or EcO15. An initiative of the Community Education Coalition, EcO’s purpose was to create economic opportunity through education.

More than a dozen EcO Network projects aimed at doing just that will be supported over an 18-month period by the grant. That’s a tremendous help and can have a big impact on the southeast Indiana region. For example:

•IUPUC will add a bachelor’s in nursing accelerated program, to help people earn that degree within 18 months. Nursing is one of the most in-demand careers.

•Dropout-prevention efforts such as the iGrad and Jobs for America programs will be expanded regionally. The iGrad program has been successful in Bartholomew County.

•A work-and-learn program will connect high school students to local companies to facilitate workforce readiness through paid internships at the participating businesses. Faurecia, Caltherm, Valeo and the Lowe’s Distribution Center are among the companies in the region that have agreed to participate.

The state is to be commended for making about $11 million in grants available to organizations statewide to aid in education and career attainment. With workforce needs increasingly requiring greater education and skills, the efforts of the EcO Network and similar organizations play an even greater role. Aiding their missions with grants such as those through Skill UP ultimately benefit individuals, employers, counties, regions and the state as a whole.