News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 18, 2013

Works council seeks fix for workers gap

Members tackle efforts to meet manufacturing demand

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Meeting the workforce needs of manufacturing companies is a major challenge in the six counties that fall under the Region 7 Works Council, the group’s chairman said Thursday.

“We have a lot of manufacturing [companies]. They need workers, and they can’t find them,” said Doug Dillion, chairman of the newly created council, which includes Vigo, Vermillion, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan and Clay counties.

The council conducted its first meeting Thursday at the Vigo County School Corp. administration building. The councils were created by state law this year.

Region 7 offers five programs in advanced manufacturing, “but they are all struggling,” Dillion said. “That is not good for our region.”

A major focus must be getting more students into those programs  — but first, educators must figure out how to get those students to enroll.

Other areas where shortages are a concern include construction trades and auto services, both mechanics and collision repair, Dillion said.

Schools must provide the curriculum to meet the skills gaps, he said, but the bigger challenge is having enough students pursue those career pathways that are in demand.

In addition to career pathways, other areas of concern on Thursday included so-called soft skills as students enter the workforce and the ability to apply basic math skills.

 Those attending Thursday’s meeting included council members and representatives of state agencies tied to education and workforce development.

The intent is to bring together educators and employers to evaluate and develop career and technical education that meets the demands of employers in each region. There are 11 regions.

While Region 7 has some challenges, “we’ve got a couple of huge advantages now,” Dillion said. Many businesses and industries want to help; also, political and state government leaders are open to new ideas, he said.

“I think this is a great opportunity for us,” Dillion said.

Gov. Mike Pence wants to make high school career and technical education a priority in Indiana.

A report due to the state Nov. 1 will look at career /technical programs in each region, enrollments in those programs and industry needs. It will identify gaps that exist and improvements that are needed.

Those reports, as well as further analysis, will be used by the Indiana Career Council to develop a state strategic plan by June 30.

The governor and Indiana Career Council “want to hear from the Works Councils about what can be done to further economic growth in these regions,” said Dan Clark, executive director of the Education Roundtable.

According to Dillion, “This is a unique opportunity.” The state is asking regions what is working and what is not.

The goal is “to take career pathways to the next level, help fill the skills gap in regions and help make sure students are better prepared for industry as well as college,” Dillion said.

Region 7 has 19 public high schools; two of them have more than 1,500 students, while eight have fewer than 400 students. It has 10 school corporations.

The region’s high school graduation rate is 89 percent, compared with 86 percent statewide. The total career/technical education graduation rate is 95 percent, compared with 94 percent statewide.

During the meeting, Pat Moore of Continental Welding questioned the certification program currently being used for welding. He doesn’t believe it provides students with the skills they need to get a job; instead, he believes programs need to focus more on welding fundamentals.

Marie Mackintosh, state director of the Works Councils, suggested that if certain certifications aren’t meeting the needs of industry, that could be included in the Nov. 1 report to the state.

She did emphasize that programs must have benchmarks and assessments to ensure students learn what they are supposed to learn.

After the meeting, Mackintosh said that much work has already been done in terms of partnerships that have existed in the regions. The councils will build on that and provide a structure to it, she said.

The group’s next meeting will be 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235.