In the ongoing effort to help create a well-trained and globally competitive workforce, the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board, READY NWI, One Region and The Center of Workforce Innovations, along with sponsors BP and Fifth Third Bank, are hosting “Workforce Summit 2013: Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce” Wednesday, March 20th from 8-11am at Avalon Manor in Merrillville.
“We’ll get started by delivering the ‘State of the Workforce’ report which is a pretty powerful piece that shows what we know about workers as well as what needs to be done to meet the demands of employers in Northwest Indiana,” President and CEO of The Center of Workforce Innovations Linda Woloshansky said. “When it comes to jobs in Northwest Indiana, it’s important to know how the supply and demand are lining up. It’s all inter-dependent. Otherwise, you have employers importing people or exporting jobs.”
For example, as manufacturing companies continue to harness new technological advancements for their computer-controlled machines, they often need new employees who can program the computers, operate the machines, maintain both and ensure that results are consistent with quality control standards - especially with an entire generation of highly-experienced baby boomers on the verge of retirement.
“It’s all about alignment and connections,” Woloshansky added. “We have great resources in Northwest Indiana – fantastic post-secondary colleges and universities – we just need to connect the dots with the jobs of the future. That starts with college and career readiness. With 80% of our employers indicating a need for middle skill development, we know technical education that focuses on the specific skills a community needs is an area of growing demand. Employers are also telling us that soft skills, work ethics need to be emphasized when it comes to generating the right workers.”
As a result, “Workforce Summit 2013” will highlight the power of community coalitions and the importance of work for youth.
Featuring a keynote address from Dr. James Applegate, Vice President for Strategic Impact at the Lumina Foundation, who works to increase the impact of the Foundation’s funding programs in support of “Goal 2025” (to dramatically increase educational attainment in the U.S, especially for low income, first generation, minority and adult students).
Just as we are experiencing in Northwest Indiana, the United States as a whole is not producing college-educated workers fast enough to replace retiring baby boomers. Current middle-class jobs are becoming less attainable without education or training beyond high school, according to the co-author of “Help Wanted: Postsecondary Education and Training Required” Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
With both national and local workforce data pointing to the fact that post-secondary education is imperative for economic growth, a dedicated group of local business, education, labor, economic development and community leaders will share their experiences in four dynamic breakout sessions geared specifically to employers, educators and youth providers.
“There are a lot of great companies in the area with really good jobs that pay very good wages to employees with or without a college degree,” Bob Schaefer of Community Dynamics who is facilitating the panel for “Consider Yourself A Talent Scout—Your Future Depends on It,” said. “When it comes to encouraging youth to prepare for the workplace, the panel will show what their individual companies do as they look at recruiting new workers. How do you determine work ethic without job history?”
Panelist George Douglas of Indiana Beverage in Valparaiso will explain how employing 12-15 youth in the summer months leads to knowledgeable full-time employees down the road.
“We’re a local logistics company and a pretty big employer,” he explained. “We employ 230 people between Elkhart and Lake counties, with the majority at our Valparaiso location. We bring on additional employees in the summer months, high school graduates and college students. Some go to school locally and continue to work part-time through the year, while others go away and come back to work on their breaks. It’s a tough labor market right now so after they graduate, we can put them in a full time position – after working here 3-4 summers they know many different aspects of the business, but especially our mission statement and core values which stress hard work and punctuality. These are very relevant to what we do everyday.”
Along with the fact that there aren’t many opportunities like this for youth, Douglas points to the companies formal orientation program which he believes sets the stage for success.
“They get to meet people who started out just like them,” he added. “That’s a pretty powerful message when you’re walking into your first job. It shows them it’s more than a paycheck, it’s about other opportunities.”
Other breakout sessions include “College & Career Readiness—Not Such an Odd Couple After All,” “Why are Soft Skills so Hard?” and “It’s Not Your Father’s Vocational Education.”
Part of the READY NWI team, Hobart Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peggy Buffington explains how area schools are implementing a comprehensive plan so students graduating from high school will be prepared to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and workforce training programs.
“When we look at the benchmarks for college success, we’re seeing how important it is to begin working with students at the middle school level,” she said. “This early awareness starts with labor market trends and matching career pathways to the areas of job growth. As students see these great opportunities, they have a better understanding of the work needed to get there. Our job is to provide the rigor of courses to help them set these wheels in motion pre-college.”
We are fortunate to have a myriad of choices when it comes to high demand and high paying jobs here in Northwest Indiana. Some require college degrees while others rely on innovative technical training from specialized Career and Technical Education (CTE) institutions, and you’ll hear about those as well.