An initiative in northwest Indiana has received a funding extension as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Workforce Innovations in northwest Indiana says the SkillUp program in LaPorte County, in collaboration with the A.K. Smith Career Center in Michigan City, has provided opportunities for students and adults to boost their skills in manufacturing for the last three years. Tamara Stump, senior workforce associate with the CWI, says a grant from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development was slated to end last month, but will now continue through the end of the year.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Stump said a goal of the program is to increase awareness among students that manufacturing can be a viable career in LaPorte County.
“I think a lot of times, students aren’t aware of really how high tech manufacturing can be,” said Stump. “I think it’s important because students need to be aware of the different types of jobs you can actually do in manufacturing, that it’s a good paying job. Some of the jobs are very highly skilled and that it’s something that if you go through career and tech ed, you have the opportunity to actually get employed in manufacturing right after high school.”
The CWI says the program provides K-12 students, career and technical education students and adult education students the ability to learn about manufacturing through classroom, lab and real-world experience. Additionally, individuals who already work in manufacturing have the ability to improve their skill sets.
The program uses the state funding to teach a variety of skills, such as welding, machining, electrical, and CNC programming, among others. Audra Peterson, principal at the A.K. Smith Career Center, says students who complete the Modern Machine Technology program can take the Certified Production Technician test, which can help them land jobs at manufacturing companies.
The CWI oversees the LaPorte County program alongside the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board by facilitating partnerships with local schools and and manufacturers. Stump says having manufacturing companies involved is key to the process.
“They are the ones that are going to do the hiring of the students. They have to let us know what skills they need in employees. They also have to pretty open to taking on internships. There’s been a number of employers that have signed up to support this initiative.”
Some of the companies involved with the program include Sullair, American Licorice Co., and Master Roll Manufacturing.
Stump says, in addition to a funding extension, the pandemic has led to a shift in how the program operates. She says some of the training can be done online and the career center has worked to provide certification testing and other classes remotely as well.
“With the employers, none of them really stopped production but they had to do different shifts. They had to cut down on how many can work at a time. They have to take various precautions. So, they’re not doing hiring right now but they’re certainly looking and as we come out of the pandemic, as we start to rebuild the economy, they will be looking to be hiring once they get their production up to where it was before.”
The CWI has established a Skill Up network including educators, employers, training providers the Unity Foundation, and the LaPorte County Public Library to assess the needs of manufacturing throughout the county. Stump says the goal is, once the funding has ended, they can find other ways to support students and employees moving forward.
Stump said the goal of the program is to increase awareness among students that manufacturing can be a viable career in LaPorte County.