In an ever-changing Industry 4.0 landscape, it’s becoming more imperative that advanced manufacturing workers have the skills to adapt to new technologies and processes. Preparing talent to succeed in this continually evolving environment requires an equal amount of basic skills training and lifelong learning. At the same time, Indiana manufacturers continue to face the biggest challenge to their businesses’ health and the communities where they operate: more jobs than talent to fill them.

With guidance from industry partners, Conexus Indiana launched Catapult Indiana to meet these needs. Catapult is a unique training program that ensures Hoosiers have the skills to secure a job in the state’s largest industry sector and have a clear career path toward long-term employment and higher wages. In many instances, employees can progress from new employment to supervisory or managerial roles or grow into new jobs brought on by advanced technologies, such as automation. Catapult also helps manufacturers fill the increasingly widening skills gap, improve employee engagement, reduce workforce attrition and lower hiring costs.

The 160-hour advanced manufacturing training program teaches broadly applicable advanced manufacturing skills and, in most cases, provides students a program stipend. The curriculum, delivered both in a classroom setting and through simulated work experiences, introduces key advanced manufacturing and logistics principles and focuses on developing critical thinking skills, a superior work ethic and an understanding of production processes and expectations. Each of these skills is key to entry-level employment as well as career growth.

The Rapid Reemployment for Advanced Manufacturing Positions (RAMP) program’s success served as inspiration for Catapult. RAMP was launched in 2015 by a group of Lafayette industry leaders, including Subaru, Caterpillar, Kirby Risk and Wabash National, in partnership with the Region 4 Workforce Board and Purdue Polytechnic Institute. Graduates of the program experienced significant wage growth of 40 percent or more plus benefits as they progressed through new employment pathways. Additionally, RAMP increased the retention rate for entry-level employees from 50% to 80%, significantly reducing employer hiring and training costs, and reached a graduation rate of 90 percent. Of those who graduated, 90 percent were quickly employed, and since students earn stackable credentials during training, many graduates can progress from entry-level positions to leadership or technical positions. The program proved tremendously successful for both graduates and the advanced manufacturing partnership.

Catapult is a scaled evolution of this proven program and serves unemployed and underemployed adults as well as graduating high school students around the state. Today, Catapult is offered in Lafayette and Greensburg and is incorporated into the Anderson Manufacturing Program (AMP), with a graduation rate nearing 90 percent.

The program is also available to qualified individuals at the Indiana Department of Correction’s Branchville facility. To-date and based on available data from released inmates that can be tracked, more than 62 percent have found employment.

Catapult is planning an ambitious expansion. In January, Catapult facilitated the launch of a new program in Jasper, Ind, in partnership with Vincennes University, a long-time partner of the program, and a regional collaborative including Radius Indiana, Dubois Strong/ Grow Dubois, and the Dubois County Community Foundation. In July, White’s Residential and Family Services in Wabash, Ind., will incorporate Catapult into their “Growing Teens for Life” program, which provides at-risk teenagers with vocational training. Conexus is continuing its partnership with the Indiana Department of Corrections to develop a new Catapult program in a women’s correctional facility. Finally, Conexus is in the early stages of bringing a much-needed training program to Marion County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state due to the pandemic. Conexus Indiana bases it expansion plans on Indiana’s manufacturing workforce needs on a county-by-county level. Programs are created in partnership with community organizations, such as workforce boards, educational partners and nonprofit organizations, to meet specific community needs.

The advanced manufacturing industry employs 1 in 5 Hoosiers and offers opportunity jobs, meaning they pay well, are accessible and provide career growth potential. By expanding Catapult, Conexus Indiana delivers a critical program that will help more Hoosiers find meaningful employment and career growth while assisting advanced manufacturers succeed in an Industry 4.0 economy.

Brad Rhorer, Chief Talent Programs Officer at Conexus Indiana, is a long-time industry professional recognized in both the public sector and manufacturing industry for his talent development expertise. Brad develops and directs programs that support secondary and post-secondary students, as well as adult workers across Indiana, to succeed in an evolving technologically advanced industry sector.