Workforce development is a hot topic in northeast Indiana. As the economy begins to pick up steam and jobs become more readily available, an important question remains in the minds of many employers, especially those in the manufacturing sector: “How can I find employees with the right skills to do the job?”
The answer to that question is that there isn’t just one answer. There is no magic bullet that will remedy the situation overnight. However, certification‐based Career and Technical Education (CTE) offered in our local high schools and career centers is a significant part of the solution.
How does CTE fit into the picture? The goal of CTE is two‐fold: first, to make students work‐ready following their graduation from high school if that is the path they choose to take; and second, to make students better prepared for their next educational step, whatever that may be.
High‐quality CTE programming contains several important components:
• Program of study, which is a logical sequence of courses and a quality curriculum based on industry standards;
• Dual credit, in which students simultaneously earn high school and postsecondary credit;
• Work‐based learning; and
• Industry‐recognized certifications, which are the optimum outcomes of most CTE programs.
Several years ago, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership established the “Big Goal” to ensure that 60 percent of the residents in our region have a high‐quality degree or credential by 2025. Industry‐recognized certifications play a vital role in that goal and in CTE.
The ability to earn industry credentials while taking part in high school CTE programs provides an advantage to students as they enter a competitive job market that requires specific skills to gain even entry‐level employment. Such credentials allow students to show potential employers that they possess those skills.
Indiana CTE providers look to offer credentials that are recognized by employers regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally when possible. Students are better served when a credential is broadly recognized. Among the credentials students in northeast Indiana are earning: American Welding Society (AWS) certification; National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification; Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) student certification; Serve Safe certification; Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) licensure; and Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC).
Many credentials are available for careers in the region’s largest employment sectors – manufacturing and health care. Both sectors have jobs now for people with the right skills and the demand for employees in those sectors is expected to remain strong. Job growth in manufacturing is expected to rise 2.3 percent in the next decade, according to data released by Northeast Indiana Works, and the job growth in health care is anticipated to be even greater – 28 percent.
Among the in‐demand jobs for manufacturing are: welders/fitters/fabricators, machinists, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) operators and industrial maintenance technicians. The health care industry has demand for certified nursing assistants, patient care technicians, and physical therapy and occupational therapy assistants. None of these careers requires a post‐secondary degree. They do, however, require specific skills that can be shown through the attainment of an industry‐recognized credential. The reward in many cases is a good‐paying job with a strong future.
Helping young people obtain certifications is only one part of filling the need for skilled CTE workers. Improving the skills of adults – both those already in the workforce or those returning to the workforce – is also critical to meeting employer needs, as well as to raising the percentage of people in our region with high‐quality credentials or degrees.
For some adults, that may mean first getting their high school equivalency; more than 60,000 adults in northeast Indiana ages 18 to 64 do not have a high school degree or equivalency. For other adults, it may mean demonstrating at their current job that they are good candidates to receive additional training that in most cases will lead to more responsibility and higher wages. One northeast Indiana certification‐based training program (Skill‐Link) for existing manufacturing workers allows employers to fill skilled positions from selected people in their current workforces.
Earning industry‐recognized certifications is not the end‐all to ensuring northeast Indiana remains competitive in the global marketplace and that all the region’s residents have pathways to self‐sustaining prosperity, but such credentials are a critical element. The rapid advance of technology in most occupations requires that our young people and adults are equipped with the highest level of relevant knowledge and skills.
Jim Walmsley is director of the Impact Institute in Kendallville. The institute provides career and technical education programs for students at 13 high schools in Noble, DeKalb, LaGrange, Steuben and Whitley counties.