PORTAGE | Lee Culver just can't understand it.

"We're not a glamorous trade," the training manager for Plumbers Local 210 in Merrillville said during a construction and trades forum Thursday morning at Construction Advancement Foundation here.

"We have to drag people in to apply for apprenticeships," Culver said. "I'm astounded because this is a possible six-figure profession, and I can't drag applicants in."

The forum, sponsored by the Indiana Works Council, WorkOne and Center of Workforce Innovations, brought together representatives of the trades, unions and local educators to tackle a growing problem.

According to statistics, jobs in the Northwest Indiana construction industry will grow by 24 percent in the next five years. The groups addressed how those jobs are going to be filled with skilled workers.

"I've seen these kinds of numbers," said John Dudlicek, vice president of Grimmer Construction Co., one of four panelists during the two-hour forum.

"Baby boomers retiring is a real thing, and we have to replace these people. We need skilled people," Dudlicek said.

Joe Coar, vice president of Tonn & Blank Construction, said he believes 30 to 40 percent of the workforce will have to be replaced in coming years because of retirements. He also believes economic development in Northwest Indiana will begin booming, increasing the need for skilled trades people.

Those involved in the trades told educators they need people with skills to enter apprenticeship programs. Those skills go beyond knowing how to use a hammer or a wrench.

"We need the whole package," said Dudlicek, adding they are looking for young people with communication, writing and social skills who also have pride in their appearance.

"It used to be the concept that if you're not college material, the trades are an option," said Dudlicek, adding that is no longer true.

Bob McDermott, assistant principal at Crown Point High School, said while 80 percent of their graduates go to college, there are some who would consider going into the trades. The problem is, he said, the application process for the apprenticeship program does not align with the college application process. 

Another problem, said Ryan Turley, a Hobart High School guidance counselor, is the lack of information provided to schools on what's necessary to enter the trades.

After much discussion, panel and audience members agreed there seems to be a disconnect between the trades and schools in the region. They also agreed they needed to introduce students to a career in the trades in the middle school years and that the groups should also be getting parents involved as well to educate them about careers in the trades.

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Joyce has been a staff writer for The Times for more than 20 years. She is the municipal and education reporter for Porter County. She is an amateur genealogist and writes a blog, Remember your Roots, appearing online each Thursday.