Nothing Wrong with Gettin’ Dirty: Talking Career Options with Indiana High School Students

We had the pleasure of presenting Indiana Skills (and Indiana INTERNnet) to eight classes of Perry Meridian High School students recently. It was great to see the attention students paid to this important topic – we had students ask us about training for jobs in sonography, truck driving and public safety.

We had the added pleasure of being joined by Jack Hope, owner of Hope Plumbing in Indianapolis. Hope has become a terrific partner for us with his dedication to advocating middle-skill careers. We know the demand and the rewards are there, but we find that many students don’t understand their post-secondary options outside of four-year college.

“We’ve created this idea that if you’re getting your hands dirty that that’s somehow demeaning or not as helpful for your community,” said Hope on Inside INdiana Business. “I don’t think people appreciate hard work in the way they used to.”

See Hope’s full video interview with Inside INdiana Business.

Indiana Works Council Up and Running

The goal: Building an education system that leads to workforce readiness.

Last Wednesday, state leaders took another step toward achieving that goal. Gov. Pence launched the Indiana Works Council in Vigo County as a result of the new law that creates regional works councils tasked with coordinating between education, job skills and career training.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Ready Indiana were fervent supporters of this legislation that brings together workforce development groups, employers and schools to evaluate and ensure that career and technical education opportunities for high school students address the workforce needs of the region.

"We need to make sure that our schools work just as well for our kids who want to get a job right away instead of getting a degree,” said Gov. Mike Pence.

Read the story from WTHI.

Indy’s RecycleForce Helps Ex-Offenders Start Again

Gregg Keesling may have dropped out of Earlham College at 19 years of age, but he soon gained a worldly education by landing in Jamaica. He then spent over two decades in the midst of civil unrest as the Caribbean nation fought for its identity in a changing world. With his adopted country at a tipping point in 1980, he saw the election of Ronald Reagan back home help to bring capitalism to the island.

He notes that he himself converted from a "hippie" to a capitalist, and began working on developing a hotel — and then public projects like helping eradicate polio from the country and working with the European Union to install a sewer system in the area, which ultimately helped gentrify the area around the hotel. His participation in Rotarian work eventually brought him back to Indianapolis, where he founded RecycleForce in 2003.

Not only does RecycleForce work to help the environment by providing an array of waste disposal services, but the 501(c)(3)'s staff is mostly made up of men and women who have spent time in Indiana's corrections system. Keesling is focused on helping them re-enter society by finding gainful employment.

"These (ex-offenders) are some of the best people on earth," he contends. "They’ve been tagged as if they’re not. Someone once said 'the arc of history bends toward justice' – and it’s hard to be openly racist anymore, like when I grew up in the 1970s … but you can certainly use the same sentiments and feelings and call the person an 'ex-offender.' And you can get away with it, and say 'I don’t want those criminals in my neighborhood. They should all be locked up.' But these are human beings with inherent worth; they’re fathers, brothers, uncles and they deserve a role in our world."

Keesling asserts that the liability employers are currently burdened with is the most significant barrier to employment for former prisoners.

"If a guy is doing a great job and a company wants to hire him directly (after using a staffing company), the liability would keep them from doing it … if companies want to reduce their liability insurance, they screen out ex-offenders."

He points to a study recently conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) indicating 70% of employers in Marion County have some type of barrier against hiring an ex-offender.

"Many will hire them, but you have to be out of prison for five or seven years," Keesling qualifies. "So the question is: What do you do for those years? How do you eat? You can’t get food stamps. You can’t get public housing. You can’t get any help and seven out of 10 employers won’t hire you. There are 135,000 to 150,000 felons and high misdemeanors in Marion County, according to the UC Berkeley Center for Employment Law."

He believes a solution could start at the Statehouse.

"If there’s one thing the Legislature could do, it would be smart tort reform around what is a negligent hire," Keesling offers. "If a guy committed a robbery, he can still drive a truck. Now I wouldn’t want to put a (recovering) drunk in a truck, or a sex offender in daycare, but there has to be some logical ways to get them in the workforce."

Keesling harkens back to his memories of Jamaica about the dangers and violence that ensue when a large percentage of the population is not employable — and the desperation that leads people to commit crimes in order to eat.

Yet success stories are evident at RecycleForce, which currently employs 128 workers, with 22 others in management.

"I'm thankful for my job at RecycleForce," explains Robby Wiker, a truck driver for the company. "Without the help or training they gave me, I don't know where I'd be or what I'd be doing. They provided great training to me and it was without cost to me. I'm also a forklift operator and am trained in many warehouse operations — and I'm a permanent employee there."

The company is also now the sixth largest recycler in the state.

"It proves they can work. That’s the biggest myth – that these guys don’t want to work," Keesling reinforces. "I think it’s the most important issue of our time – that nobody seems to care about."

Employee Training Tools are Accessible — and FREE

We continue to hear – almost every day – that employers are having a difficult time finding qualified, appropriately skilled workers to fill their many open positions. Training is also needed to help current employees develop the necessary skills and demonstrate readiness for higher level positions.   

A less skilled, less educated labor force was once able to fill entry- to mid-level positions, but the recession and economic uncertainty has forced companies to do away with jobs or combine them with others to cut down on costs. The incumbent worker training programs companies once relied on to help support employee training and development were reduced or eliminated. Technological advances over the past several years have compounded the issue by changing the job market to require a higher skill level.

This skills mismatch poses a problem for employers and employees alike. While there is no such thing as a “free lunch,” there is free assistance for Hoosier employers looking to improve their workforces. Many, however, are not aware of the programs available. Ready Indiana, the workforce development concierge of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, serves as one way for employers to find out about programs and incentives that can help develop a skilled workforce.

An assessment and training program aligned with occupational, job-specific skills can be particularly beneficial. That’s one reason the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) offers WIN Career Readiness Courseware, which is a skills-based, online training tool used nationwide alongside the WorkKeys job profiling and assessment system.

All Hoosier employers can access the WIN courseware through their local WorkOne center – and it doesn’t cost them a dime. Employees can access WIN training at work, at home or anywhere the Internet is available to improve their skills and proficiency in 10 job-related areas:

The first three WIN modules (Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics and Locating Information) are commonly referred to as the three core assessments that make up a WorkKeys certification. While WorkKeys assessments are available for all of the modules, the three core assessments are typically what employers use to identify the skill levels (i.e. scores) a candidate needs to be successful in a particular occupation. 

So how do employers know which scores are appropriate for specific occupations at their company?  A second complimentary program offered through WorkOne is the WorkOne Job Opportunities and Business Services (JOBS) program, which is also free to employers. Through the JOBS Program, employers can have up to five positions “profiled” to define the job duties and scores (in the three core assessments) needed for that position at their company. Stipulations for using the service include a one-page application for employers, a hiring need and a position that pays at least $10 per hour. Utilizing the job profile in combination with the WorkKeys assessment yields a tool that is EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) compliant, reducing concerns for human resource professionals.   

Another important tool offered through DWD and WorkOne is on-the-job training, a program that reimburses employers up to 50% of new hires’ wages during the first weeks (or months) of job-related training. On-the-job training is not a tax credit but an actual check sent to your company. The training/job must pay at least $10 per hour.

One main push behind on-the-job training is getting dislocated workers back into the workforce. Job openings must be posted on the state’s free employment service, Indiana Career Connect. WorkOne will recruit and screen applicants and then provide employers with qualified candidates to evaluate. Employers determine the training plan and commit to retaining the employee for at least six months upon successful completion of training.

Another specific focus of on-the-job is funding for “green” on-the-job training. Manufacturing companies that produce energy efficient products and components, or those that engage in energy efficient or environmentally-friendly processes that use fewer natural resources may qualify.

These are just a few examples of how employers can benefit from available programs and do a better job of finding or developing the employees they need so that more Hoosiers can get back into the workforce. WorkOne business service representatives are the first point of contact for employers in each region of the state. Ready Indiana helps employers connect to these and other workforce-related resources through a toll-free hotline at 866-444-1082.  Ready Indiana also offers an interactive, county-by-county map tool that delivers provider contact information statewide for workforce, economic development and community college programs available at www.readyindiana.org.

Kris Deckard is the executive director of Ready Indiana, the workforce development concierge service offered by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Visit www.readyindiana.org for more information about Ready Indiana activities and initiatives aimed at providing useful, actionable information and research employers can use to improve hiring and training of employees. Kris can be reached at kdeckard@indianachamber.com.

Skills Shortage Leaves American Jobs Unfilled

Workforce development and having a properly trained workforce is as critical as ever — and remains a very evident challenge in the United States. At the Indiana Chamber, we’re proud to have Ready Indiana as an affiliate program working to aid Indiana businesses and workers in this constant battle. (If you have any questions about workforce training opportunities or what the state has available that could benefit your business, contact Ready Indiana Concierge Kris Deckard at kdeckard@indianachamber.com.)

Scholars Thomas A. Hemphill and Mark J. Perry elaborate on this critical issue for The Wall Street Journal:

Following 12 straight years of declines, U.S. manufacturers added 109,000 workers to their payrolls in 2010 and another 237,000 in 2011. And in January of this year, the number of manufacturing jobs increased by 50,000.

Yet this vibrant sector is being held back—and not by imports. Instead there is a serious labor shortage. In an October 2011 survey of American manufacturers conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP, respondents reported that 5% of their jobs remained unfilled simply because they could not find workers with the right skills.

That 5% vacancy rate meant that an astounding 600,000 jobs were left unfilled during a period when national unemployment was above 9%.

According to 74% of these manufacturers, work-force shortages or skills deficiencies in production positions such as machinists, craft workers and technicians were keeping them from expanding operations or improving productivity.

A majority of U.S. manufacturing jobs used to involve manual tasks such as basic assembly. But today’s industrial workplace has evolved toward a technology-driven factory floor that increasingly emphasizes highly skilled workers.

As Ed Hughes, president and CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College in Kentucky, accurately described the trend, "In the 1980s, U.S. manufacturing was "80% brawn and 20% brains, " but now it’s "10% brawn and 90% brains." This new trend, widely known as "advanced manufacturing," leans heavily on computation and software, sensing, networking and automation, and the use of emerging capabilities from the physical and biological sciences.

Faced with the shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers have begun joining with high schools, trade schools, community colleges and universities to train men and women with the right skill sets. In-house apprenticeship programs, a staple of the past, have largely disappeared, according to Dr. Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources. They’re too costly and time-consuming. Instead, he notes, companies are seeking out "just-in-time" employees who are already technically trained and ready to hit the ground running.

That’s Logistics!

David Tucker of Vincennes University takes a look at logistics training and education, including a new facility in Plainfield. Read the story in the March/April edition of BizVoice, which explains logistics developments and education efforts going on around the state. This effort could prove pivotal in giving many Hoosiers the skills necessary to fill jobs.

Don’t Get Angry; Get Informed

I’ve been with the Indiana Chamber for just over a year now and in that time I’ve gotten to write about many of the Chamber’s initiatives and programs. The more I learn, the more fascinating I find the work they do for the state of Indiana. One that has really been catching my attention lately is Ready Indiana, the Chamber’s workforce education initiative.

In fact, I think of Ready Indiana every time I see anything about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

I know it doesn’t seem these two have a common link, but hear me out. I’ve been reading through various news articles and posts on Facebook and talking to what supporters I can find to try and figure out what exactly the OWS group is upset about (still haven’t found one actual common theme – to me it just seems that everyone who is angry about anything has backed this movement).

One of the gripes I’ve seen most often, however, has been about the fact that college students are graduating with major amounts of debt to enter a job market without well-paying jobs. Another facet of the movement is upset about the fact that the older generation doesn’t have the skills for the new jobs that are being created, or the money to go out and get the necessary education.

These two points are where Ready Indiana (and any other workforce development or education initiative across the nation) comes in – opportunities do exist for the experienced workers and those who are right out of school. Below are just a few examples.

On the Ready Indiana web site, www.readyindiana.org, there’s a long list of middle-skills jobs that Indiana can’t do without (computer support specialists, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, lab technicians, heavy truck drivers, and many more). The list includes the number of job openings in each field and the median earnings for 2009 – the lowest median earning on that list is $33,407; the highest is $67,280.

These middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Employers, community colleges, private career schools and apprenticeship programs offer the necessary training and skills for these careers. High schools are also beginning to offer more technical courses so that students don’t have to graduate and venture into the job market with huge debt.

To combat the workforce skills gap, Ready Indiana recently announced a partnership with the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), which will allow employers to train their current and even prospective employees in-house through a nationally-recognized training program for manufacturing and logistics. On-the-job training grants are available, and the completed certification is also good for six credits to Ivy Tech Community College.

There are jobs available – in fact, a common complaint by employers is that they cannot find qualified workers to fill their many open positions. This BizVoice® story that appeared in the July-August edition features Westfield Steel and is a good example of Hoosier employers practically begging for qualified applicants.

These are just a few small hints into what is available to Hoosiers who are willing to do the research and find existing job opportunities. Personal responsibility is an important key to finding employment, whether you’re fresh out of school or making a comeback into the workforce.

Protesting might get your anger or frustrations out, but it doesn’t give you an income, access to health insurance or a sense of security. Utilizing resources like Ready Indiana and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, however, can lead to those important measures.
 

Indiana Unemployment High, Yet Qualified Workers Still Hard to Find

It seems counterintuitive that with so many Hoosiers out of work, employers are having a difficult time finding qualified applicants. But our friends at Inside INdiana Business issued a release today that some might find surprising:

At this week’s conference, Wabash National Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dick Giromini, Brightpoint America President Mark Howell and Paragon Medical CEO Toby Buck all said they are having trouble finding workers with the technical skills needed to fill their openings.

David Floyd, who will become the chief executive officer of Warsaw-based OrthoWorx next month, says finding well-trained employees to staff Indiana’s growing orthopedics sector is going to be one of his biggest challenges in the job.

Anderson-based Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems President Pete Bitar echoed those concerns. He is a member of the newly-formed Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council.

Wabash National Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dick Giromini will be a guest on Inside INdiana Business Television this weekend to discuss the issue.

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state’s economy has added 3,800 net private sector jobs this year, buoyed by 5,500 manufacturing jobs.

On the topic of training and re-entering the workforce, you might also check out my article in the new BizVoice about some steps being taken to educate the state’s older workers.

Tick, Tock on the Clock

No, I’m not singing the pop song “TiK ToK” by Kesha – I’m trying to express the importance and urgency of updating Hoosier workforce skills. Seriously, the clock is ticking.

As the four experts who discussed this need in our most recent roundtable discussion in the current edition of BizVoice® have attested, the skills that were once able to secure a good job just won’t suffice now.

“We see the jobs that required low skill levels and lack of computational ability; lack of ability to evaluate information, analyze information and generally contribute to a company’s bottom line – those jobs just don’t exist any longer,” notes Gina DelSanto, senior deputy commissioner for education and training at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

For Indiana to remain competitive, more residents need the skills to fill open jobs in technology, manufacturing, logistics and more. Part of the problem stems from a lack of education for many Hoosiers.

“With more than 500,000 members of our workforce, there is more than one in five lacking a high school diploma. Those individuals simply do not have the skills that they need in order to compete for jobs and help Indiana companies become stronger in the new economy,” DelSanto adds.

Read the full article to find out about a surprising mismatch between the number of employers with job openings and the high unemployment rate, as well as the success story of a southwestern Indiana company.

Purdue “TAPs” Into State Need, Makes Big Impact

Purdue has been one of many Indiana resources working to enhance higher education and the Hoosier workforce over the years. The school recently hit a milestone with its impressive efforts:

Purdue University’s Technical Assistance Program reached a milestone during its 2009-10 fiscal year: $750 million in economic impact in Indiana since its inception in 1986.

Along the way, TAP has assisted more than 8,900 organizations, trained more than 9,400 employees, and saved or added more than 5,500 jobs in the state,

"As we reach our 25th anniversary, TAP is recommitting itself to helping Indiana businesses, manufacturers, health-care providers and government organizations grow," said David McKinnis, TAP director and associate vice provost for engagement.

According to its recently released annual report, TAP provided services that helped Indiana companies increase or retain sales worth $54.1 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Companies working with TAP realized cost savings of $6.8 million. TAP’s efforts led to $26.1 million in capital investment.

During 2009-10, TAP worked with 541 employers, hospitals, health-care providers and governmental units in 82 Indiana counties. It trained 3,731 employees, and its work is credited with creating or saving 1,098 jobs.

"Many companies have undergone significant changes during the recession, and now is the perfect time to plan for how those changes will affect performance in an improving economy," McKinnis said. "Our team is focused on developing programming and recommendations that can help businesses in Indiana thrive going forward."

One business that used TAP during the year – and is continuing to use it going forward – is Whitney Tool Company of Bedford, a manufacturer of milling-type cutting tools, counterbores, drill and tap extensions, combined drills, countersinks, and other specialty milling cutters.

Whitney Tool worked with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a division of TAP, to develop a quality management system to help improve customer satisfaction and overall company performance.

MEP also conducted a value stream mapping class at Whitney Tool that helped the company reduce product lead times by a week.

Currently, Whitney Tool is working with TAP to upgrade its website to support e-commerce and search-engine optimization.

"Purdue’s TAP has been an outstanding resource in helping us continuously improve our operations to secure our jobs for tomorrow," said W. Scott Baker, Whitney Tool operations manager. "The TAP and MEP teams exert whatever effort is required to deliver high-quality results above and beyond expectations within set timelines. Without their efforts, small businesses like ours could not survive in today’s world."

I was fortunate to write about Purdue’s TAP green training initiative in a BizVoice article last summer.