The Region currently has more than 1,100 manufacturing jobs available that could be filled within 30 days if the right candidates stepped forward, Center of Workforce Innovations President and CEO Linda Woloshansky told a packed house at Dynasty Banquets in Hammond Tuesday.
"There are plenty of jobs and a shortage of skilled workers," she said. "It's difficult to get young people excited about manufacturing."
Various efforts are underway to ensure major Region employers get enough skilled candidates to keep humming along. The "Region Means Business" panel, hosted by moderator Jim Dedelow from WJOB radio, discussed ongoing workforce development initiatives at a luncheon before the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce's 14th annual Business Expo.
"This is not just a Northwest Indiana challenge," Woloshansky said. "It's an issue across the board."
Young people are often not aware of good-paying jobs in manufacturing, oil refining, and the skilled construction trades.
"My dad was a steelworker. I was a steelworker in summers away from college. I took pride from that," said Louie Gonzalez, chancellor of the Lake County campus of Ivy Tech. "What's missing now is it's not part of the culture in the community. It's not being talked about at the dinner table, at family gatherings, at picnics. Kids don't have any connection with manufacturing."
Ivy Tech has been working with employers to tailor programs to their needs, and has recently placed 70 graduates at the BP Whiting Refinery.
But even with training programs and apprenticeships, it can be a struggle for employers to find suitable candidates for in-demand jobs.
"No one grows up wanting to be a roofer," Korellis Roofing President Peter Korellis said. "Some want to work with their hands, but they often want to be carpenters, electricians or trades that are more appealing. We have to interest them in roofing careers."
Workforce development officials are trying to educate students early on, when they're still in middle school, about career options in Northwest Indiana. They're hosting Manufacturing Day, trades fairs, and classroom visits to interest young people in local professions.
"We make steel. We process oil. We process steel," said Don Koliboski, director of economic development at the Lake County Economic Alliance. "These are the basis of our economy. We need the employee base to take over those jobs when the current workers retire. People have an outdated image of a steelworker, of people getting their hands dirty in manufacturing. That was then and this is now, when the mills need to attract good candidates."
The steel mills in Indiana Harbor in East Chicago used to employ nearly 50,000 steelworkers, but now employ only 4,000, ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor Human Resources Director Joseph Medellin said. But they still produce as much steel because of how much more automated and high-tech the work has become.
"It's because of the innovations that have occurred," he said. "We're looking for folks to operate technologically advanced equipment, to be able to understand and calculate fractions in their heads."