Described as a “new frontier” in advanced manufacturing, lightweight technology development is becoming increasingly important in Indiana, according to a new report that provides a snapshot of jobs in the sector. Often referred to as lightweighting, the area focuses on using lightweight metal alloys to reduce weight, while maintaining or enhancing performance—typically in the transportation industry. In a recent quarterly report for the national industry, Indiana posted the highest increase in the Midwest in online job ads for lightweight-related manufacturing, showing its growing presence in the state.

The data compared first quarter 2016 online job postings to second quarter in five states: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. The report is issued each quarter by LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow), a public-private institute that operates in the five-state region to develop and deploy lightweight technologies and implement training programs to prepare the work force.

“Of all the metal manufacturing jobs in the country, about 50 percent of them are in that region, so it makes sense for us to focus in that [five-state] area,” says LIFT Communications Director Joe Steele. “We focus on how to manufacture things in a lighter, more efficient way. You can’t just use lighter materials, because they may not have the same structural integrity or safety. We look at things from design to production and everything in between.”

LIFT focuses on lightweight metals used in transportation technologies: aerospace, automobile, marine and defense manufacturing. The institute’s focus on work force reveals Indiana’s strong presence in the sector.

With online job ads climbing 4 percent to reach 17,910, Indiana had the highest jump among the five states. Steele says Indiana has also shown steady employment growth in the last six years. In 2009, less than 425,000 Hoosiers worked in manufacturing jobs related to lightweighting; 2015 marked the sixth consecutive year of employment growth, climbing to 505,000 workers in 2016.

LIFT data shows the top five jobs available in Indiana’s lightweighting sector range from technicians to highly-skilled professionals, including laborers, material workers and mechanical and electrical engineers.

“So many of these jobs are going unfilled—not just in the region, but across the country—because the work force in manufacturing is aging,” says Steele. “We want to make sure that, one, people in the work force now have the training to take those jobs, and two, that we work with students and encourage them to get a STEM education and look at manufacturing as a career, because there are quality, high-paying jobs available.”

Steele says LIFT tailors efforts in each state according to its individual needs. In Indiana, the institute worked with Purdue University to lead the launch of a high school Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for electric vehicles. The event, which makes a special effort to include underserved students, is meant to replicate the university’s Grand Prix that is a long-standing tradition for Purdue students.

“[The high school students] really got a hands-on experience and feel for how to build these carts and make them go faster by managing the weight,” says Steele.

LIFT also works with Vincennes University to help veterans transition to civilian employment through accelerated machinist training. Additionally, the institute partners with the statewide advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative Conexus Indiana to place interns in meaningful positions.

“We want to give [interns] exposure to the lightweight industry, and make sure they’re not getting coffee, but really doing jobs that have an impact at these companies to see if it’s something they want to do,” says Steele. “We want them to realize, ‘look at all the interesting and cool stuff I can do if I were to pursue this kind of career.’”

LIFT cautions the full potential of lightweighting can only be realized by developing the skilled work force necessary to use the advanced technologies. With Indiana posting some of the highest numbers for job openings, LIFT believes the state could be among the best places to launch a career in this new frontier of advanced manufacturing. 

Steele says changing the outdated perception of the manufacturing industry will help attract workers.

Steele says there are several benefits to using lighter-weight materials.

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