BY KAT BRAZ
Students who previously thought college might not be an option for them can now envision a future employed in the manufacturing industry while simultaneously pursuing a degree, thanks to a new program launched in fall 2022 by Greater Lafayette Commerce.
Supported by two grants from the Indiana Department of Education, Career+ aims to place more graduating high schoolers in locally available in-demand, high-wage jobs with full-funded post-secondary education. The initial grant specifically focused on manufacturing pathways. Several industry partners, including Cook Biotech, Evonik, Kirby Risk, Oscar Winski, Primient, Radian Research, Rea Magnet Wire Company, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Terra Drive Systems, Wabash National and WWS, have joined the Career+ ecosystem.
“Career+ serves the schools in our economic development region by training K-12 students in the 18 employability skills identified by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development as the key workplace skills for all jobseekers regardless of experience or occupation,” says Kara Webb, workforce development director at Greater Lafayette Commerce. “It also helps the manufacturers in our region find local talent for their workforce.”
Of the regions 1,800 high school graduates in 2023, only 900 students will be heading to college. Only 600 of those 900 who start college will complete their degrees. That means there are 1,200 potential candidates for manufacturing pathways. With hundreds of available jobs across manufacturing — the largest sector in the region — industry partners are eager to establish a pipeline of local talent.
“We need workforce,” Webb says. “And we’re not seeing it coming from anywhere else, so we need to grow our own workforce. That is what Career+ is designed to do.”
Career+ students who start working in manufacturing roles straight out of high school will have an opportunity to pursue post-secondary education at no cost to them because the grant also funds tuition assistance and reimbursement for all participating employers. The manufacturing pathways provide a career ladder for employees as they complete education while working at the company.
Greater Lafayette Commerce contracted Skyepack, a West Lafayette-based company that specializes in developing custom course content, to create digital modules that cover the 18 employability skills and 140 related competencies. There are video interviews with people who have careers in manufacturing and virtual tours of manufacturing facilities. As students complete modules, they are awarded badges that can collectively build a pathway within the program.
“The badges are verification that the student can show their potential employer they have demonstrated these skills in a classroom setting,” says Eric Davis, CEO of Skyepack. “The different pathways align with the skills employers are looking for in specific entry level jobs. So if a student wants to become a CNC operator or an assembler, there is a specific pathway that relates to each position.”
The online curriculum is complemented by activities and lesson plans that participating teachers facilitate in class. Currently, the program has been adopted by eight schools across the nine-county region. Career advisors and connect coaches within each school manage implementation of the program.
Additionally, two microcredentials have been developed as part of the work readiness program. Workplace Communication trains students in workplace communication skills such as working effectively in groups and giving and receiving feedback. Student Success, designed primarily for eighth graders, helps students build their four-year high school plan and think beyond graduation. Students and parents gain a better understanding of graduation requirements, the Core 40 diploma and dual credit opportunities.
The microcredentials are designed to be embedded into teachers’ current curricula. Program developers are also collaborating with Ivy Tech to align with the community college’s course offerings so students could earn college credits upon completion of their certificate programs.
“Earning a bachelor’s degree straight out of high school is not accessible for a lot of students,” Davis says. “There’s a new movement in education, tearing the paper ceiling, which is all about finding alternative routes to gateway opportunities outside of earning a bachelor’s degree. A large portion of students need better access to career opportunities. This program is designed to put students on a career pathway and connect them to an ecosystem of opportunities.”
Greater Lafayette Commerce continues to recruit more industry partners and schools to participate in manufacturing pathways. Next up, it plans to work with Skyepack to develop curricula for healthcare pathways.
“The whole goal of these pathways is to help students see that there are plenty of opportunities for successful careers in good paying jobs here in our region and they can still pursue post-secondary education, too,” Webb says. “We’re excited to expand to more schools in the counties that we serve and continue to grow our talent pipeline efforts in this community.” ★