Training & Education

Core strength

By Lauren Duensing

Above: Students from the Hinds Career Center work on a CNC machine at Red Gold in Elwood, Indiana, helped by two company executives involved in the A+ Partners program.

Group helps ensure enthusiastic people obtain the skills needed to succeed in demanding manufacturing jobs

September 2017 - Indiana is a leading state for manufacturing activity and manufacturing job creation, according to “Manufacturing and Logistics: A Generation of Volatility and Growth.” The report was released in June by the Ball State Center for Business and Economic Research and Conexus Indiana.

Contrary to popular perception, the numbers for the entire industry were strong: 11 percent growth “since the bust (2000-03) and the ensuing economic turbulence of the 2001 and 2007-09 recessions.” And, in Indiana, a state where tax incentives have helped to lure investments by large employers, manufacturing production grew 41 percent over the same period.

Indianapolis-based Conexus Indiana celebrated its 10th anniversary in June 2017. Its parent is the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which has several branded initiatives to improve the state’s economic climate for a variety of sectors, including life sciences, IT, emerging energy, manufacturing and logistics.

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This student was a summer intern at SMC, a Noblesville company that’s sponsored 18 interns over the past two years.

Shortly after it was formed, Conexus Indiana assembled a task force of executives to determine the skillset workers needed to be successful, says Claudia Cummings, vice president of Workforce and Strategic Initiatives. “We focused on middle skills because more than 50 percent of employment in manufacturing is middle skill, and that is where we had our most significant gap. Students either tend to stop with a high school diploma or less or go on for a four-year degree.”

Conexus Indiana drafted a skills map reflecting the core needs of manufacturers, regardless of their subsector or size. “What we found, honestly, was that there were [a few] core areas where companies wanted to see some strength built while students were still in high school: Safety, quality, environmental impacts and continuous improvement,” Cummings says.

The state Department of Education used the Conexus skills map to develop standards for all Indiana schools that offer manufacturing-related curricula, Cummings says. But many schools didn’t have the resources necessary to implement the program consistently across the state—and that’s how Hire Tech was born. Hire Tech combines classroom instruction with real-world experiences, teaching students concepts beyond basic machine operation and encouraging them to understand the importance of productivity and continuous improvement.

Education for all

Hire Tech uses an online textbook so that every student enrolled in the program is learning the same lesson at the same time, Cummings says. Students complete projects that are designed so that a wide variety of schools can implement them.

“It was important to us to make sure there was no specific equipment required for the class because we needed it to be scalable,” she says. “If we’re going to be able to hit anywhere near the numbers that we need to meet our demand, we need to have as many students as we can moving toward these careers.”

“Traditional career and technical education centers with robust manufacturing labs can implement a quality, safety, blueprint-reading project using their equipment,” Cummings continues. Alternatively, a small charter school can use common household items as instructional tools.

She cites first-year students taking on a year-long project focused on designing for production. The students are responsible for the entire process—designing the product, writing standard operating procedures, determining quality measures, putting safety requirements into place, and having an outside individual test that the SOPs are replicable.

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Since 2012, Hire Tech has prepared more than 7,000 students for high-tech careers, including this teenager from Noblesville High School.

“I’ve seen schools use their wood lab to create dog houses for the Humane Society or memory boxes to sell. I’ve also seen traditional high schools with budgetary constraints have students work on slingshots or jewelry-making,” Cummings says. Regardless of the end product, these types of projects teach students “how to be accountable to one another and how to communicate with each other—all those 21st century skills that we know are important to manufacturers.”

Finally, Hire Tech schools are matched with at least one industry partner that serves as a mentor to both teachers and students, ensuring that projects are being “implemented in a way that’s valuable to the local manufacturing ecosystems,” Cummings says.

From internships to careers

Over the two years of the program, Hire Tech students can earn up to 15 college credits from Ivy Tech Community College (which has multiple locations), and they can earn up to five industry credentials from the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) and APICS.

Safety and quality content from the MSSC is offered to students at more than 200 Indiana high schools through Hire Tech. Students who successfully complete MSSC’s Certified Production Technician Safety exam and MSSC’s Certified Production Technician Quality exam will have sufficient safety and quality education to begin a middle-skill career in the advanced manufacturing industry.

The popularity of Hire Tech spurred the creation of the Conexus Interns program to “capture these students so they can be a direct pipeline into employment,” Cummings says. The development process for the Interns program was similar to the one for Hire Tech and included an industry task force, which resulted in a step-by-step guide for manufacturers.

The Conexus Interns Framework explains the laws and insurance requirements regarding workers between the ages of 16 and 18 and discusses the work assignments that are “going to pique students’ interest and add value to the company and encourage the students to persist into the career,” according to Cummings. “The first year we had 80 students, the second year we had 220 and this current year we have almost 300 students as interns around the state.”

As the industry grows and changes, so do Conexus Indiana’s talent initiatives. This fall, Hire Tech will have completed its fifth year of operations. “We are completely refreshing the material to take into account changes in industry demand as well as in technology,” says Cummings. Staying ahead of the curve will help Indiana continue to grow its manufacturing sector. “We have a lot of opportunity for individuals, and having a skilled, passionate workforce helps us continue to maintain our position as a leader in the industry.” FFJ



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