MICHIGAN CITY | Some LaPorte County students will graduate practically job-ready with technical skills to work for companies such as NIPSCO under the state's first ever Energy Academy.
With utilities statewide facing a major shortage from baby boomer technicians about to retire, the A.K. Smith Area Career Center in Michigan City is stepping up to help fill the void.
The Energy Academy starting in the fall will accept up to 40 high school students with a curriculum top-heavy in math, technology, engineering and science, said Audra Peterson, director of the center's LaPorte County Career and Technical Education program.
The academy is being added to the CTE program, which already offers training in fields such as carpentry, plumbing and auto mechanics for students in Michigan City, LaPorte, Westville, New Prairie, South Central, LaCrosse and even into New Buffalo, Peterson said.
Academy graduates will come with entry-level skills to work as linemen and other positions such as electrical and mechanical engineers, generating plant operators and natural gas technicians.
Peterson said graduates will also earn college credit toward their degrees if they enroll at schools like Ivy Tech and Purdue North Central.
Academy graduates will also have skills to qualify not only for jobs with utility companies but trades offered through unions and other areas like the Steelworker of the Future program at ArcelorMittal.
"There are many opportunities," Peterson said.
Kris Emaus, manager of training for NIPSCO, said the four major utilities statewide in the next few years will have nearly 3,000 openings for upper-level electrical technicians, linemen, plant operators and natural gas technicians due to retirements.
"We don't have enough kids coming into the pipeline trying to pursue technical careers," Emaus said.
Peterson said sophomores will enter into the three-year academy in the fall, but juniors are also eligible to take three years of the curriculum during their two years left of high school.
If more than 40 students apply, selections will be based on factors such as grade point average and attendance, she said.
NIPSCO presented a $100,000 check Friday to school officials to help offset the cost of getting the academy started.
"We face a lot of retirements all across our company especially in the skilled trades,'' said Pete Disser, chief financial officer with NIPSCO.
Peterson said the course will include hands on training, visits to NIPSCO and possibly other utility company facilities, guest speakers in the energy profession and mentoring from some of the skilled tradesmen.
Since no other school like it exists for high schoolers in Indiana, Peterson said the curriculum was shaped with help from a visit to an energy academy in Pensacola, Fla.
The Indiana Department of Education on Thursday gave its official blessing for the academy to start furthering the agenda of Gov. Mike Pence to move the state closer toward filling skilled jobs that are in high demand.
"'I'm most excited for our kids. They are the most important thing we can invest into," Peterson said.