PORTAGE | Employee training managers at some of the region's largest firms said Thursday they are finding an increasing number of workforce entrants lack remedial skills training prior to launching industrial careers.
Panelists also touted the importance of on-the-job training programs and using the knowledge of experienced workers to run training sessions and work as mentors to younger employees. But several also said there is a critical need to reach children while in schools about industrial careers to let them know what businesses are looking for in the future.
The discussion was part of a day-long Reliability Seminar that included presentations and workshops on various workforce, technology and maintenance issues on projects.
The Northwest Indiana Business Roundtable, a nonprofit council of local firms seeking to improve region construction and maintenance projects, hosted the event. About 50 people filled a classroom at the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant training and conference center during the workforce training discussion.
"Industry needs people who are qualified, trained to be able to do things reliably and operate the best possible manner in any (situation)," said Tom Machacek, president of Cornerstone Electrical Consultants in Merrillville.
Candice Bell, maintenance training supervisor at the BP Whiting Refinery, said most recent and soon-to-be high school graduates lack "any mechanical aptitude" and many feel more comfortable working with iPads than Crescent wrenches. She said the company is advocating for high schools to bring back industrial education. It will make it easier for higher education institutions to train people for those careers, she said.
"We really need to get the high schools to go back to the basics and incorporate the mechanical shops, the wood shops, electric shops," Bell said.
Joel Heim, employee development and instructional design leader at NiSource, said he's finding that entry level employees are lacking math and science skills, which are critical to utility operations. He said the company started adding base level classes in training curricula before getting to more advanced material to reduce the failure rate.
ArcelorMittal has established partnerships with seven high schools to help counselors introduce manufacturing jobs to students, said Mark Langbehn, manager of employee training at ArcelorMittal. But he said the relationships should be formed prior to students' teenage years.
"We need to be in the middle school level, early elementary, talking about manufacturing jobs, opportunities in manufacturing and going to the vocational school," Langbehn said.
Debra Briney, department manager of training and development for U.S. Steel operations in Northwest Indiana, said the workforce challenges of today are similar to issues identified when she started working for the company 25 years ago. She said many current employees require remedial training in math and also need more experience in working with technology.
Briney said U.S. Steel has had success in working more with the Institute for Career Development to help ensure workers have the types of skills the company needs in its operations. She said the institute has had success in getting members of the United Steelworkers trained to advance their careers in maintenance positions.