Finding good jobs starts with training

Finding good jobs starts with training (full article)
By: Steven Dwyer, President and CEO, Conexus Indiana and Thomas Snyder, President, Ivy Tech Community College
Posted: May 2, 2011


Hoosiers can be proud that our economy is based on making and moving real products: We rank No. 1 among states in manufacturing employment per capita, ninth in logistics jobs. From lifesaving medicines to the latest jet engines, from electric cars to artificial knees, a growing number of today’s high-tech products have “Made in Indiana” stamped on them.

But today’s manufacturing and logistics operations aren’t like the factories and warehouses of the past. They’re filled with computerized equipment and robotics systems, orchestrated by sophisticated supply chain software. Their competition is global, so productivity and innovation are essential.

Workers need more advanced skills to be tech-savvy problem-solvers who work on a team, not at an assembly line. And these workers are getting harder to find. As more and more baby boomers retire, employers are scrambling to find replacements. In 2010, the manufacturing sector had the largest gap between open positions and new hires.

The issue isn’t necessarily money. Every year, taxpayers spend billions on workforce development and education programs designed to prepare Americans for employment. Industry organizations and individual companies spend billions more.

But for all this investment, there is no consistent national system for assessing and cataloguing industry training certifications, and no systematic effort to ensure that these certifications are teaching the skills that manufacturing and logistics companies need today.

A recent survey of employers by Conexus Indiana, the state’s manufacturing and logistics initiative, showed that 68 percent of respondents agree that employee readiness is a problem for their companies, but that they largely lack confidence in and awareness of the certification programs that purport to prepare workers for these jobs.

There’s a movement under way to address this issue and create a national system of “industry-approved” credentials. U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has introduced the AMERICA Works Act that would prioritize federal workforce training funding for programs that teach toward a nationally portable, industry-recognized credential, including those endorsed by the Manufacturing Institute, the educational arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. The act would ensure that taxpayer dollars flow primarily to programs that have the support of those doing the hiring.

For its part, the Manufacturing Institute is redoubling its efforts to make sure that a national set of industry certifications exists to meet the needs of the private sector. The institute and state-level partners are working to create a set of portable credentials that are more relevant to manufacturing and logistics companies across the country.

As the most manufacturing-intensive state in the union, Indiana was among the first to sign on to this important project. Conexus Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College are leading the way in the effort to collect input from Hoosier manufacturers and logistics companies and offer our ideas on the most critical skill gaps confronting industry.

Donnelly, Ivy Tech, the Manufacturing Institute and Conexus Indiana are helping Hoosier workers earn the skills they need to compete for today’s jobs, supplying manufacturing and logistics companies with the human capital they need to grow. These efforts could pay economic dividends in Indiana for generations to come.

Snyder is president of Ivy Tech Community College; Dwyer is President and CEO of Conexus Indiana.