When it comes to bridging the gap between workers and employers, the Center of Workforce Innovations (CWI) in Valparaiso, which serves as the staff to the Northwest Indiana Workforce board and regional operator of WorkOne Northwest Indiana, has been the impetus behind a number of initiatives that will help put our high school students on the right track to getting the training and/or additional education they need to fill the jobs that are now in demand.
As more and more available jobs remain unfilled because employers cannot find qualified workers, especially as economic factors and technological advances continue to reshape the job landscape, it’s never too soon to prepare young people for joining the workforce after high school or college.
With an eye on seizing new opportunities in a new economy, CWI, in conjunction with the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board, formed a coalition of local leaders from education, industry and business who all agreed on the importance of setting regional priorities when it comes to college and career readiness.
“We set the stage with some conversations over three years ago,” Linda Woloshansky, CWI President and CEO, explained. “Everyone was on the same page from day one. Our focus is on the need for increasing educational attainment levels as a prerequisite for job and income growth throughout the region. Once READY NWI, the Regional Education/Employer Alliance for Developing Youth initiative, was firmly established, we created a plan and started implementing it.”
With an eye on the high-quality jobs emerging in northwest Indiana, the group is focused on the specific credentials important to employers – now and in the future.
“No one group can do this themselves,” Woloshansky added. “We all aspire to the same goal, and that’s to make sure our young people are ready for their careers. We know what needs to be done and how funding can help get it done. That’s really important with the financial situation in our schools right now.”
For example, CWI’s WorkEthic Program seeks to show high school students the importance of soft skills in preparing for future jobs. Based on a curriculum that blends theory and practical experience, students who complete a 12-hour work-ethics course can earn a WorkEthics Certificate.
“We see this as something that will give our students an edge,” Valparaiso High School Counselor Roberta Garcia said. “Being able to take that certificate to an employer – some of our students are holding jobs now and not all of them will go to college – it shows that they have what it takes to be a good worker.”
Northwest Indiana employers all point to the importance of soft-skill and work-ethic standard, and the fact that high school students need to clearly understand how they relate to success in the workplace. Soft skills include aspects such as commitment, discipline, organization, attendance, punctuality or timeliness, respectfulness and teamwork. In order to operate effectively, companies need all of their workers to understand soft skills and put them into action each and every workday.
Garcia will be introducing the program to juniors this fall.
“We’re going to be talking to our students ahead of the regularly-scheduled college prep meeting with parents in the spring,” she explained. “We’ll be discussing careers and what they need to know about getting to the next step. That’s how we’re going to introduce this opportunity for them. Right now we’re looking at having three or four teachers sign off and verify a number of the key elements. With seven periods in a day, that’s confirmation from 60-70 percent of their day.”
Another innovative project being led by READY NWI, with funding generously provided by Fifth Third Bank, is the production of 25 Career Path videos.
“This series is going to cover everything from banking and manufacturing to healthcare and logistics plus entrepreneurs and artists,” Craig Pratt, Fifth Third Bank’s Senior Executive for Northern Indiana, who learned about the project and READY NWI during a conversation with Mark Maassel, President and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, said. “We were talking about some things where we can make a difference in business, specifically the need to train our people in jobs that are needed. In order to do that, we have to inform our youth about the opportunities here. All of the employers see the need for a workforce trained to meet their needs now and into the future.”
Each video will include an introduction from the CEO or other key person, a discussion about the type of jobs and work readiness skills from a human resources perspective and three to five employee interviews.
“We’re looking for inspiring stories from young people that high school kids can relate to,” Pratt explained. “They will be describing what their jobs are like, what it took for them to get the job and their chosen career paths – what types of post-secondary training and/or education was required.”
Because math and science skills are becoming more critical in today’s heavily technology-driven workplace, READY NWI is especially concerned with linking college and career standards to what is being taught in our classrooms.
“There’s definitely more of a focus on what employers need,” Hobart High School Teacher Jon Brumley said. “I teach calculus, pre-calc and physics. From my end, I’ve been working to align and update my syllabus with Purdue North Central’s dual credit class requirements. Also, new this year, we are going to spend some time with our juniors and seniors to address something that doesn’t normally get addressed in the normal class day. Once every three weeks during the homeroom period, students will investigate a career path they are interested in pursuing. They’ll have the opportunity to learn more about what happens beyond high school, with information on what they need to do to achieve what they want – hopefully it’s a motivator.”
With the region's unemployment rate hovering around 9.9 percent, about 39,000 people are out of work. However many businesses, including manufacturers, are having a hard time finding qualified employees to fill open positions. The team committed to READY NWI is poised to change all that – sooner rather than later.
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2804 Boilermaker Court, Suite E