Northwest Indiana Tackles ‘Skills Gap’

Inside INdiana Business

December 11, 2012

News Release

Employer engagement may be the secret sauce that helps high schools equip students with the skills sought by companies.

A new program at George Rogers Clark high school in Hammond, Indiana and ongoing programs at the Porter County Career and Technical Center in Valparaiso, welcome employers to advise classroom teachers and the curriculum they deliver to students.

The “skills gap” was the subject of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal showcasing Fort Wayne, Indiana employers talking about their skill needs and the skills applicants possess.

Employer advisory committees are a critical element of his school, says Jon Groth, the principal at the Valparaiso-based Career Center. Employers are encouraged to review curriculum and to point out inconsistencies in what is taught and what they need in order to deliver a service or manufacture a product.

In several areas, the school goal is to find jobs before seniors graduate. The Career Center has a strong placement record especially in its Modern Machining Technology program. Graduates of the program have been known to step into jobs paying as much as $40,000 a year. Task Force Tips, a Valparaiso company that produces fire hose nozzles, has been hiring three to four Career Center graduates every year. Another local company—Urschel Labs, a manufacturer of commercial food slicing machines—also recruits and hires Career Center grads.

Principal Groth contends such hires would not occur if the skills taught in school were not aligned to the needs of business.

The Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission expressed its vote of confidence in the Career Center by awarding it a $40,000 grant. The money allowed the school to buy a state of the art CNC machine that is a four axis, numerically controlled, multi-tool lathe/mill manufacturing center. The machine is commonly found in metal fabricating and machining factories in northwest Indiana.

The school also prides itself with the employer relationships it has with new car dealerships and auto repair shops, hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes.

Groth says more than 70% of students attending the Career Center are college-bound. However, he also knows other families are concerned with the return on investment of a four year college degree, and believe the Career Center has had great success with many students leaving the Career Center and into a decent paying job.

In Hammond, a new program at Clark High school is connecting 86 sophomores and juniors with two key Indiana sectors, advanced manufacturing and logistics. A state organization—Conexus Indiana—facilitated the linkage through its program called Hire Technology. Clark is one of eight Indiana high schools involved in the program. The goal is to align student learning with the skills and work ethic sought by manufacturing and logistics companies. Those sectors are cited for high job growth in Indiana.

The students are taking advantage of online learning and accessing manufacturing production classes from Ivy Tech. Jim Bryant is the teacher that oversees the 30-station computer lab at Clark. Bryant, who served 21 years with the Marines, says students who successfully complete the two-year program will earn nine hours of college credits and five industry recognized certifications.

Bryant’s goal is to make learning relevant. He is now working with Lear to have his students visit the Hammond facility that manufactures seats for Ford Motors. That visit may help students, said Bryant, to link their work in the classroom to the factory floor.

Source: Center for Workforce Innovations