Middle-skill job training offers path to sustainability

For Chris Madden, the idea of a career in the trades began in high school when he took courses at a career and technical education center. He enjoyed the hands-on work of building a house and was intrigued by the electrical work.

Some of Madden’s friends already were pursuing electrical apprenticeships and providing information about following in their footsteps.

Interest coupled with information provided inspiration and a pathway to Madden’s future. Still a question lingered. What about college? A report from The Institute for College Access and Success found Indiana students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2013 from public and not-for-profit colleges accrued debt averaging $28,466. And while a college degree typically results in greater lifetime earnings, some college grads find landing their first job difficult.

“It’s kind of hard to (go to college) and not be promised a job right out of school if you go four years,” Madden said. “(The apprenticeship) was very attractive to me to be able to know that I would be guaranteed work for the next five years. And I also had a trade that I could have for the rest of my life. I could take it anywhere I wanted to go, any state or anything like that.”

Employers across Indiana need more Chris Maddens. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Indiana’s unemployment rate for July was its lowest since April 2008. Just because Hoosiers are filling jobs doesn’t mean Hoosier employers don’t have more openings to fill, and they will for the foreseeable future. Consider these findings from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce 2015 Employer Survey:

75 percent of the respondents’ workforce is estimated to be eligible for retirement within the next five years.

73 percent of respondents say filling their workforce was either one of their challenges or their biggest challenge.

58 percent of respondents expect their workforce to increase in the next 12 to 24 months.

43 percent of respondents said their companies left jobs unfilled in the last year due to underqualified applicants.

Employers say retiring baby boomers and expected job growth result in a list of available occupations with a range of education and skill levels, from high school graduates to doctoral degrees. But 39 percent of the jobs listed in the survey require either a workforce credential or an associate degree, both of which can be earned in two years or less.

Subaru of Indiana Automotive operates an 18-month internship program that allows trainees to earn $30,000 while obtaining a workforce credential or an associate degree from Vincennes University. Madden’s five-year apprenticeship included a $40,000 per year salary while earning an associate degree in applied sciences from Ivy Tech, said Jim Patterson, director of the Electrical Training Institute.

“In the way we have the trades set up now, when you get that associate’s degree with Ivy Tech, then you can go right into IU or Purdue and continue your education,” Patterson said.

Many employers also offer tuition reimbursement that allows employees to pursue advanced degrees.

“We need workers who can think critically, problem solve and work on a team,” said Brad Rohrer, SIA’s manager of training and performance management. “There are good jobs available with advancement possibilities, but we need people to get the appropriate skills first, and we will help them do that.”

Ivy Tech offers programs statewide to train students for the skilled trades or technician level jobs but doesn’t have enough students in the pipeline to meet employers’ demand, said Sue Smith, vice president for Ivy Tech’s Technology Division.

That’s why organizations such as the Electrical Training Institute, the Indiana Plan, the Indiana Construction Roundtable and Indiana’s Regional Works Councils — local partnerships among business, education and manufacturing — are trying to increase awareness about the opportunities that are available in the skilled trades, advanced manufacturing and related fields.

Employers in Indiana hope a new movement of highly trained, skilled workers will help keep Indiana’s economy humming along. And for a generation facing the highest college costs ever, middle-skill job training may offer an attractive path to a sustainable future.

Glenn Augustine is the interim CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.