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What Indiana Can Teach the Nation About Workforce Development

Young mechanical engineer
Credit: iStock/BulentBARIS

This blog is part of a monthly series brought to you by the America Works initiative. As a part of the MEP National Network’s goal of supporting the growth of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, this series focuses on innovative approaches and uncovering the latest trends in manufacturing workforce development.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only been to Indiana once – for a fun weekend in Indianapolis. I will say that their Children’s Museum is truly world-class, and it was great going duckpin bowling for the first time.

Though I haven’t taken full advantage of Indiana as a tourist destination (yet!), as a workforce development professional, I can’t help but notice what is happening in the state. The cutting-edge partnerships, programs and collaborations have resulted in Indiana leading the nation in developing new and better manufacturing workers. Manufacturing is Indiana’s largest industry sector, accounting for 26% of the state’s economic output and employing more than 520,000 Hoosiers.

So, I turned to my friend and colleague Blair Milo to share what specifically makes Indiana a national leader in this critical area. Blair has a lot of insight from her experience as the former Mayor of La Porte, Indiana, and former Secretary of Career Connections and Talent for the state. She’s now Director of the Center for Talent and Opportunity at the Sagamore Institute, and she’s the international Hoosier ambassador for “The Hub of Awesome,” as La Porte is known. So, without further ado, let’s hear from Blair directly.

Prioritizing people, collaboration and trust to solve workforce challenges

Indiana has long focused on connecting workers to manufacturing careers. Leaders in this field are experiencing the many forces now changing the landscape of manufacturing as we know it. These include technology, trade conditions and the evolving skills needed to succeed.

The speed of change can feel threatening, but Hoosier leaders are finding solutions to complex challenges by prioritizing people, collaboration and trust. Coalitions and partner-driven initiatives crossing industry, geographic, educational and even political boundaries are adapting and meeting the evolving needs of students, adults and employers.

The list of awesome organizations collaborating on solutions is extensive. Two standout examples are serving both current workers and developing future leaders in manufacturing.

The Modern Apprenticeship Program

The Modern Apprenticeship Program (MAP) is a new partnership between Ascend Indiana, a talent initiative that connects people to careers through a network, services and insights, and Employ Indy, the regional workforce board. MAP matches high school talent with careers in technology, financial services, health care and advanced manufacturing.

Modern Apprenticeship Program graphic
Credit: Courtesy of Ascend Indiana

The concept emerged after a collection of business and community leaders traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, to learn how 70% of the Swiss population joins the workforce via a robust network of apprenticeships. Swiss students are offered multiple, targeted pathways with clear expectations and outcomes at various points. With support along the way, they have key information to find career opportunities that match their talents and interests.

Indiana’s MAP program offers high school students a similar opportunity. Stephanie Bothun, cofounder of Ascend Indiana states, “Our local employers provide real, paid experience, while students come out with a high school diploma, college credit, relevant credentials and a network that helps them figure out what’s right for them.” In fall 2021, the first group of 30 high school juniors started the three-year MAP program at 16 companies. Another 41 students started their program at 28 companies last year.

Participants are diverse: 60% are female and 90% are people of color. A third of MAP participants come from low to moderate-income homes, providing opportunities for creating generational economic advantages. When asked what she wished others knew about MAP or youth apprenticeship, Bothun replied, “I wish more employers were aware that 16-year-olds can work in most environments and it can be a huge opportunity for the students, their families and the company.”

Manufacturing Skills for Success

Indiana’s MEP Center, Purdue MEP, offers a range of talent attraction and development resources. These serve targeted populations like new and incumbent workers, mid- to senior-level leaders, individuals with limited access to transportation, and justice-involved citizens returning to the workforce.

Manufacturing skills for success from Purdue MEP

In particular, Purdue MEP’s Manufacturing Skills for Success has become a nationally sought-after model. The program has found success through its collection of partnerships with state and community-based organizations. The 10-day bootcamp-style program provides individuals from a wide array of backgrounds with basic manufacturing skills to fill immediate, entry-level needs of the manufacturing sector. By partnering with employers as well as local governments, YMCAs, parole boards, Goodwill and other community-based organizations, the program has successfully recruited and trained over 1,550 Hoosiers.

Graduates earn an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-10 certification, a Purdue University certificate of learning, and gain direct connection with employers eager for new talent. The compressed timeframe allows new or career-transitioning workers the opportunity to gain meaningful experiences and skills to launch a career quickly. At the same time, the availability of trained talent is valuable to local employers.

The key to success, according to Ranae Stewart, Purdue MEP’s Director of Center Operations, is understanding the variety of barriers that talented, committed individuals seeking careers face. The program then addresses those barriers directly through trusted relationships with local partners like YMCAs or Goodwill, who in turn have the trust of the community members they engage with.

As the manufacturing industry continues to evolve with new opportunities, Indiana remains committed to innovative collaborations that ensure awesome opportunities for Hoosiers, manufacturers and partners across the country.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

Blair Milo

Blair Milo is the founding Director of the Center for Talent and Opportunity, a community resource at the Sagamore Institute. The Center focuses on closing the wealth gap of women and minorities by accelerating high-growth entrepreneurship and impact investing. She previously served as the first Secretary of Career Connections and Talent, a cabinet position newly created by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. In this role, she launched the 21st Century Talent Regions initiative resulting in 80 Indiana counties forming collaborative regions to plan and implement strategies for attracting, developing and connecting talent. She also helped create the Indiana Talent Network, which connects stakeholders statewide to share best practices for equitable talent policies and strategies. Before joining state government, Blair was elected Mayor of La Porte, Indiana in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. She also served 13 years with the U.S. Navy. Blair is a Fellow of the inaugural class of the Civil Society Fellowship, a partnership of The Aspen Institute and the Anti-Defamation League.

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