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'Tomorrow' group addressing skilled worker shortage

Enhancing skills to enhance worker's lives

No one said it would be easy.

Terre Haute Tomorrow, a volunteer group of civic leaders hoping to build a better future for the city and its residents, is taking on "workforce readiness." It's a slippery concept, but the basic idea is to enhance peoples' work skills to both improve their lives and provide a better crop of workers for potential and existing employers.

Currently, Terre Haute is widely seen to suffer from a shortage of workers with skills to do much of what even existing companies need. And this is viewed as a problem statewide. As the Terre Haute Tomorrow "Community Plan" states: "Companies looking to relocate or expand their operations in Indiana often find that the workforce lacks the basic technical skills necessary to fill their positions..."

The goal of the Terre Haute Tomorrow workforce readiness "action team" is to close that "skills gap." The team is made up of more than a dozen business leaders and educators who are hoping to connect employers with trained and ready employees.

One early success for the team is the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) training program at Ivy Tech and supported by WorkOne, a state agency.

There is a strong demand for workers who can use the sophisticated CNC machines for specialized parts manufacturing in the area, said Lisa Lee of WorkOne. So far, 41 people have gone through the program and job placement has been 100 percent, she said.

WorkOne can help place workers in the CNC program or interested individuals can call the state agency at 812-238-5616, extension 4, Lee said.

Another goal of the action team is to help younger people understand the importance of acquiring skills and finding a job, said Dan Doan, chairman of the committee. To that end, the team is encouraging local industry leaders to speak to Vigo County schoolchildren through Junior Achievement classes and through other avenues, such as attending school open houses.

The Vigo County School Corp. is actively working to train the local workforce for today's and tomorrow's jobs, said Doug Dillion, the school district's director of career-technical education and a member of the action team. To that end, the school corporation recently received a state grant for student robotics training, he noted. Through Terre Haute Tomorrow, the school corporation is better able to tailor its training programs to the needs of local employers, he said.

Vigo County high schools also have 15 industry-recognized CNC machines for industry training, Dillion noted. Vigo County schools have also made a significant investment in 30 different nationally recognized Career Pathways training programs, including high-demand, high-skill areas such as electronics, welding, engineering, machining, advanced manufacturing and logistics, to name a few, he said.

An overarching goal of the workforce readiness team is to improve communication among job seekers, skills trainers and employers, Doan said. One step in that direction will be the completion of a survey of 50 local employers to better understand the specific skills they need, he said.

The team is also engaged in a study to find other communities with successful workforce readiness programs in place. The team hopes to identify at least three other such communities. Columbus and Lafayette may be among those, Doan said.

Another hope of the action team is to help students understand that manufacturing has become a much more attractive career path than it might have seemed 30 years ago. Today's factories are often high-tech facilities where the average pay is more than $55,000 per year, according to the action team's written plan.

The job of lifting Terre Haute's potential workforce to a higher level and closing the skills gaps is no easy task. Much of Indiana suffers from the lack of a skilled workforce, according to many observers. In Vigo County, the challenge may be even greater. Unemployment here was 7.5 percent in December, significantly worse than the state's figure of 5.8 percent, but better than Vigo's rate one year ago of 8.1 percent.

Nationwide, the economy is finally recovering, state and national figures show. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 3 million jobs were created in 2014 — the best figure since 1999. The unemployment rate nationwide fell below 6 percent for the first time since before the Great Recession. As a result, this may be just the time for Terre Haute Tomorrow to capitalize on new workforce readiness opportunities.

Terre Haute Tomorrow's workforce readiness team was formed on the understanding that a strong community needs good jobs with a qualified and ready workforce, Dillion said. Working together as a team "gives everyone a vision and a common goal," WorkOne's Lee said. Terre Haute Tomorrow serves as a "focal point" for monitoring progress, identifying needs and filling training gaps, she said.
 
From the Terre Haute Tribune-Star
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015
By Arthur Foulkes
812-231-4232 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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http://www.tribstar.com/news/local_news/tomorrow-group-addressing-skilled-worker-shortage/article_eeb94744-f4ec-5c86-801b-30319ce30ff9.html