Vincennes University Working to Tackle Skills Gap

Our team recently had the opportunity to visit Vincennes University (VU). We spoke with their administration about the work they do to prepare students for today’s high-demand jobs.

We toured their campus, including a visit to the impressive Red Skelton Performing Arts Center. We also walked through the Indiana Center for Applied Technology, which had several labs with technical equipment used by manufacturing companies for students to train. Some of the machines were “welding robots,” and each was given a human name. Vice President Dave Tucker said that, while machines exist to ease human labor (welding in particular is difficult on the body), there is still a need for skilled engineers and mathematicians to program the robots.

We also toured Toyota Motor Manufacturing (TMMI) in Princeton, IN. VU has a partnership with TMMI called the Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT). The program includes a two-year degree in Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Robotics that combines cutting-edge curriculum and paid working experience, along with learning highly sought-after business principles and best practices of a world-class manufacturer. Their giant robots were affectionately named “Godzilla!”

 

GUEST BLOG: Make Your Business’ Web Site Engaging, Intuitive and Professional

This guest blog about business web site design is the first in a series of informative posts presented by The Web Guys — a web design and digital marketing agency located in Carmel.

As the world becomes increasingly more digitized, a business web site is no longer optional. When looking for information, the average consumer’s first impulse is to head for Google — not the Yellow Pages. In the article “B2B’s Digital Evolution” on Google Think Insights, the author asserts:

New research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows that potential business customers are increasingly using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete. The challenge for marketers is to be present in these channels at all times with content that educates buyers and helps guide commercial decisions.

It’s important to realize, though, that not just any old web site will do. A well designed web site will have a higher conversion rate than one with a “one size fits all” approach, especially for younger, design-savvy visitors. Bad design shouldn’t happen to good companies, but all too often a business owner or manager will quickly slap up a sub par web site, bypassing the professional business, content and marketing expertise needed to drive traffic to the site and increase sales.

Web design companies know that in order to be truly effective, business web sites need to meet these three criteria: they must be engaging, intuitive and professional.

Every web site relies on visitor engagement to flourish; after all, it only takes a click of a button to leave a disappointing web site and look for greener pastures. Each company approaches engagement differently — some focusing on graphics while others rely on attention-grabbing content. The best sites usually are a combination of both of these elements.

Getting a visitor’s attention is one thing, but keeping it is quite another. A web site with navigation that takes more than five seconds to understand will confuse and irritate potential clients. Visitors should see a clear, intuitive path through the site. Avoid the trap of “Mystery Meat Navigation” – links that say “Click Here!” without any indication of where they lead. Consistent, clear labeling with call-to-action buttons that direct customers to get quotes, make purchases and contact businesses should stand out on every page.

Even an engaging, intuitive site can fall flat, however, if its design looks unprofessional to users. Consumers approach the Web expecting businesses to have professional, informative websites — not throwbacks to the 1990s. If you’re still relying on flashing animations, ticker tapes scrolling by and black text on lime green backgrounds to catch attention, a face-lift is long overdue.

When hiring a Web design agency to create a web site, business owners should research available options. Find an agency with experience, and ask detailed questions about the design process before committing to a partnership. For Indianapolis and Indiana business owners, working with a local company like The Web Guys enables them to provide optimal content paired with SEO services to reach their target markets.

First impressions are everything — and an unprofessional, confusing site will send potential customers running to the competition. Creating an engaging web site only requires a modest investment of time and resources but will generate traffic and new customers for years to come.

Next month, look forward to learning about the importance of having proper web site visibility on Google, Yahoo! and Bing!

Single Computer Screen Better than Double

I’ve written in this space before about workplace distractions, as in trying to have fewer of them. In thinking that most people would agree with that plan, I was a bit mystified as dual computer monitors became a quickly growing trend.

The research showed that productivity could be enhanced with two monitors. But that was if, and only if, you can avoid the interruptions — which can come twice as fast in the two-monitor world.

Farhad Manjoo, a personal tech columnist for The New York Times, summed it up in a recent column. He eloquently states:

In a switch that amounts to heresy among some techies, I’ve become a two-screen skeptic. Two months ago, about five years after becoming an ardent proselytizer for the Church of the Second Display, I turned off the extra screen on my desktop computer.

At first, the smaller workspace felt punishingly cramped. But after a few days of adjusting to the new setup, an unusual serenity invaded my normally harried workday. With a single screen that couldn’t accommodate too many simultaneous stimuli, a screen just large enough for a single word processor or browser window, I found something increasingly elusive in our multiscreen world: focus.

The column also noted that it can take workers as long as 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. And constant interruptions create a stressful workplace.

Gloria Mark, a professor who studies workplace distractions (how does one get a job like that?) at the University of California advises that people turn off email notifications, and answer and write email in batches once or twice a day rather than every few minutes. She notes that taking up such habits requires both personal discipline and buy-in from your bosses and co-workers.

Manjoo concludes:

That gets to the blessing of one monitor. With a single screen, I was forced to fight my distractions. I had to actively prevent myself from falling into email and Twitter, from ever losing focus on my main window. It took some time for me to exercise that willpower. But by finding methods of sticking to my task rather than coping with my distractions, my single-screen machine ultimately improved how I work. It can for you, too — if only you resist the pull of two displays.

 

Neil Young Hopes to Revolutionize Listening Experience with New Technology

American Songwriter tells the story of Pono — a new technology championed by rock/songwriting legend Neil Young — to give music listeners an experience that more resembles an authentic, live performance. Young’s hope is to “revive the magic that has been squeezed out of digital music.”

Pono applies what Young calls an “underwater listening experience.”

On Tuesday, Neil Young launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Pono, his long-awaited digital music service and player. Young hopes his new invention will put and end to the inferior sound quality of the common CD and MP3. Fans and investors ponied up $800,000 to aid Young’s cause in a mere ten hours.

A video on his Kickstarter page of famous musicians waxing poetic about the new format undoubtedly helped the cause, and may turn you into an early believer.

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sting, Gillian Welch, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Eddie Vedder are among the converts who appear to tout the power of Pono.

And here’s more on Pono’s mission:

Pono’s mission is to provide the best possible listening experience of your favorite music. We want to be very clear that PonoMusic is not a new audio file format or standard. PonoMusic is an end-to-end ecosystem for music lovers to get access to and enjoy their favorite music exactly as the artist created it, at the recording resolution they chose in the studio. We offer PonoMusic customers the highest resolution digital music available. PonoMusic is more than just a high-resolution music store and player; it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.

Hats Off to Hoosier Life Sciences Companies

It was a race against time when I rushed into my boss’ office to share new statistics on life sciences released by BioCrossroads in partnership with the Indiana Business Research Center at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Why the hurry? We were seconds away from sending the March-April edition of BizVoice® magazine, which features life sciences, to the printer.

Alas, I was too late!

Sometimes you can’t beat the clock; it’s one of the perils of working in the magazine world. But that doesn’t diminish the value of our special BizVoice issue, now available online and on the way to your mailbox for our print subscribers. It tells compelling stories of the companies – and people – making discoveries and advancing the life sciences field.

A roundtable discussion focused on growing Indiana’s life sciences advantages includes insights from panelists on opportunities, challenges, collaboration, funding and more.

A few highlights from the BioCrossroads report (data is from 2012, the most recent year it is available):

  • Annual economic impact: $55-plus billion (up from $50 billion)
  • Workforce: 55,000 employees at nearly 1,900 companies
  • Annual wages: $89,056
  • Worldwide exports: Indiana ranks second (behind California), with more than $9.7 billion in life sciences products each year. That’s one-third of Indiana’s total exports.

Life sciences is changing – and saving – people’s lives. Thank you to all in our state who are helping make it happen. And keep the innovation coming!

Don’t Make These Social Media Mistakes

Here are some worthy reminders from Digital Relevance regarding mistakes you should avoid when using social media for your business.

Your tweets or Facebook posts are solely promotional.

Social media can be a good venue to share special sales and promotions, but don’t post these activities too often or your “fans” will drop you. People want to follow your company because you are helpful, informative and have something to offer.

You don’t interact with anyone.

It is called social media for a reason. It seems like a no-brainer, but a big no-no many companies make is not interacting with its followers. You should promptly respond to mentions, replies and retweets and continually check your Twitter feed to respond and reply to your followers. Be sure to answer comments or questions on Facebook as well.

You tweet too much or share too often.

Twitter is a much more continuous, open platform for sharing multiple times each day. You should tweet at least three to five times a day, but what’s more important is the quality and value of your tweets. Low-quality sharing won’t lead to much interaction. On average, top brands posted once per day on Facebook. If you post more than twice per day, you will typically lose engagement.

You only tweet or share posts about your business.

It’s not all about YOU. Your followers want you to be a resource for industry information, trending topics and every now and then they like to know what’s going on in your company, but they don’t always want to know about every single webinar, article or event. It’s good to show you are a real, successful business, but also illustrate your value as a resource that continually interacts with its followers.

You’re commonplace and uninteresting.

Just as writers have a unique style and voice, brands should have a unique voice that their audience understands and relates to. Form your unique voice based on your culture, community and conversation.

You repeat yourself, you’re totally automated and you repeat yourself.

Automation can help productivity and efficiency, but when it comes to social media, it can seem spammy, impersonal and excessive. Don’t tweet or share the same article multiple times a day or even multiple times a week. A helpful article can be shared multiple times for larger exposure, but spread out your coverage dates.

Avoiding these mistakes will help you build a strong online community that believes in your brand, considers you an essential resource and enjoys interacting with you.

Confessions of a … Funeral Director?

Hopefully you’ve not had to bury many loved ones in your life. But, the inevitable part of life is death, and sooner or later you’ll experience it.

In September of 2012, we buried our beloved grandfather. It was the first funeral of a close family member in my life and the only one I’ve ever been involved in planning.

Going through that as an adult, I got to see the business side of funerals. The cost that comes with nearly every single thing. The fact that if you don’t have life insurance (my grandfather was uninsurable; ironic for a man that sold insurance for his career), everything comes out of pocket. The way that you can save money by doing things for yourself (putting together a digital slideshow yourself will save $50-100). And how a good funeral director will be there to help you get through it all, a caring presence in a time of mourning.

I’ve been working on a short story for BizVoice® about the use of Skype at funerals so family members that are far away can be involved (check it out in our upcoming March/April edition). It’s just one of the ways technology changes even the business of death. I stumbled onto this really interesting blog called “Confessions of a Funeral Director: Working at the Crossroads of this World and the Next.” At some point, I’d suggest you give it a read.

Instead of the creepy, pale images of morticians you get from Hollywood (which is not the case at all, in reality), you get a chance to hear more about the industry and why people choose this particular profession. The writer is a young man named Caleb Wilde, whose sincere honesty and a quick wit make for an interesting read in a subject that many people find easier to ignore.

One recent post is about firing your funeral director when they try to gouge you for money at one of the saddest and most confusing times in your life.

He writes: “If you EVER feel pressure from a funeral home or funeral director to buy something more expensive — or something you don’t want — FIRE THEM! Seriously, just fire them. Walk out if you need to. The fact is that your mind is already clouded by grief and the last thing you need in your life is something trying to squeeze money out of you … because they will. You just experienced a death in your life. You need people who love you, NOT people who want to exploit you.”

Most people probably don’t question funeral costs, just thinking that’s how it goes when someone passes away. But you have to be a smart consumer, even in times of sorrow.

Email Flood Keeps Pouring It On

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully for the most part, to reduce the stranglehold of email on my business life. I’ve followed some of the guidelines — only check at certain times of the day, create folders for next steps, etc. — but that doesn’t seem to stop the unending flow.

A recent New York Times technology column noted that a research firm study calculated that people send 182 billion emails each day around the world. The annual total: More than 67 trillion messages. (In 2012, the numbers were 144 billion a day and 52 trillion total). Active email accounts increased from 3.3 billion to 3.9 billion, with 6% growth expected in each of the next four years.

Here are a few other observations in the Times column:

“It’s behavioral economics 101,” said Clive Thompson, author of a new book, “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better” and an occasional contributor to The New York Times Magazine. “You make it easy for people to do something, they will do more of it.”

Studies have shown that all this email leads to an unproductive and anxiety-ridden workplace, said Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has been studying the effects of email in the workplace since 2004. Ms. Mark’s research has found that people who stopped using email at work felt less stress and were more focused and productive.

Mr. Thompson said that in the workplace, email had become a major barrier of efficiency. “People feel the need to include 10 other people on an email just to let them know they are being productive at work,” he said. “But as a result, it ends up making those other 10 people unproductive because they have to manage that email.”

Branko Cerny, founder of SquareOne, which bills itself as a stress-free email client, said that technology could help solve the problems of email on the receiving end, which SquareOne does by presorting and flagging important messages, but that only human awareness could stop senders from inundating us.

In the past, with physical letters, people put thought into what they were going to write before they sent it, Mr. Cerny said. With digital, it’s send first, think later.

The author closes with the following: “For those who can’t seem to handle the onslaught of email, there is always the extreme option. When messages pile up, select all, hit delete and declare email bankruptcy (his lead shared that was his strategy in going from 46,315 unread emails in his inbox on Dec. 31, 2013 to none on his first day back to work in the new year).”

Throwback Thursday: Who Were the Greatest Innovators?

Following Steve Jobs’ recent death, the debate was sparked soon after about his rank among inventors in American lore. Free Enterprise.com recently surveyed its Facebook followers on the matter, with some interesting results. The “odd facts” about Jobs and Nikola Tesla are likely the best part. (And if you visit the link above, be sure to read the somewhat profane, yet comically scathing rebuke of Thomas Edison):

We got hundreds of responses and found an interesting difference between the men and the women. The overwhelming majority of male respondents (81%) said engineer, physicist and futurist Nikola Tesla was the greatest innovator of the last 100 years (maybe our male Facebook followers are fans of The Oatmeal?). Facebook follower Jason Carter notes, “He IS the father of the information and the industrial age.” R. Keith Hunter responded, “Without him, we would not be technologically where we are today.”

Female respondents gave Apple guru Steve Jobs a slight edge, with 55% of women saying he was the greatest innovator. Barbara Spitznogle explained her vote, “He changed our world with his brilliant ideas and he applied them to our daily lives.”

Inventor Thomas Edison and Microsoft’s Bill Gates tied for third place among all respondents, while automotive pioneer Henry Ford was a solid fourth.

Here’s a bit more about the top two greatest innovators of the last 100 years, as decided by voters on the American Free Enterprise Facebook page.

Nikola Tesla

Tesla was born the son of a Serbian Orthodox priest in Smiljan, Croatia. He credited his innovative quest to his mother, a homemaker who created appliances such as a mechanical eggbeater to help with the home and farm. He emigrated to the United States at 26 years old and worked for Thomas Edison, who eventually became Tesla’s rival.

The list of inventions that Tesla pioneered reads like the history of the 20th century: Radio, radar, the induction motor, the Tesla coil, alternating current dynamos, arc light systems, and electric vehicles were all conceived by Tesla. He also developed concepts such as the use of X-ray machines, telegeodynamics, robotics, and early computer-logic principles.

Fun Fact: Tesla held over 700 patents in 26 countries when he died in New York in 1943.

Odd Fact: Nikola Tesla claimed to have invented a death ray which he called teleforce in the 1930s and continued the claims up until his death

Steve Jobs

Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955, and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs of Santa Clara, Calif.Jobs attended high school in Cupertino, Calif., the city where Apple is based. In 1972, he briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., but dropped out after a semester. He returned to California in 1974 and landed a job with Atari, where he met his eventual business partner, Steve Wozniak. The two founded Apple in the 1970′s, ushering in the age of the personal computer with the introduction of the Apple II line in 1976. In 1985, amid a sales slump, Jobs lost a corporate power struggle with his board and left Apple. He went on to found NeXT and Pixar before returning to Apple to rescue it from near-bankruptcy.

Under his second tenure at Apple, Jobs spearheaded the introduction of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and the iPad. He died from pancreatic cancer six weeks after stepping down from his duties at Apple in August 2011.

Fun Fact: Jobs held over 300 patents which were displayed in a Smithsonian exhibit in 2012.

Odd Fact: As a student, at Reed College, Jobs came to believe that if he ate only fruits he would eliminate all mucus and not need to shower anymore.

Switzerland County EDC Earns IEDC (international) Honor

The Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) recently earned a major award. Its president, Jon Bond, was a participant in our BizVoice magazine discussion on regional economic development organizations. That story and the complete November-December BizVoice will be available online on the evening of November 12 in conjunction with the Indiana Chamber's 24th Annual Awards Dinner.

Bond notes in the magazine the challenges that Switzerland and other rural counties face in the highly-competitive world of business attraction and retention. Enhancing workforce skills is certainly one area that will set any community or region apart. Congratulations to the SCEDC.

Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation received the Excellence in Economic Development Gold Award for its ongoing workforce skills initiative. The award, presented by the International Economic Development Council, honors the best program in North America in the category of Human Capital for small communities.
 
For some communities, local workforce data is a strong selling point to investing businesses. In others, however, data reveals critical issues that can offset other advantages a community offers to business prospects.
 
“In Switzerland County, we realized we could not effectively negotiate with prospects demanding a pipeline of skilled workers until we had constructed that pipeline for them,” said Jon Bond, president of Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation.
 
In 2008, as participants in a Lilly Endowment-funded regional initiative to raise the educational attainment and earnings of Southeast Indiana residents, the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation looked at the workforce demands of regional employers, and compared the results to the available workforce data. “Those results made it clear that we had to do things differently,” said Bond.
 
Five years later, Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation’s EcO15 initiative assists residents seeking the necessary skills to enter, re-enter or re-position themselves in the workforce. Its approach focuses on people, not programs, and measures success one person at a time. The SCEDC works to eliminate barriers to success and to provide options that will meet individual needs of our residents seeking to improve their skills.
 
The Switzerland County Technology and Education Center is the cornerstone of the EcO15 program.  Completed in 2012, the multi-use facility features classrooms and labs for adult educational opportunities.  The EcO15 effort also created an advanced manufacturing lab at Switzerland County High School, and initiated a focus on STEM education.  And the community’s residents now receive frequent, regular messages on the importance of upgrading their workplace skills to remain competitive in today’s economy.

For more information about the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation and its Eco15 initiative, please visit www.switzerlandusa.com.