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What Indiana Can Teach the Nation About Workforce Development

Indiana focuses on connecting workers to manufacturing careers

Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2023 - 23:02

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only been to Indiana once—for a fun weekend in Indianapolis. I will say that its 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 there. 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 percent 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. Here is what Blair has to say about Indiana’s workforce development.

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, healthcare, 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 to learn how 70 percent 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, co-founder of Ascend Indiana, says, “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 percent are female, and 90 percent 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 model. The program has found success through its collection of partnerships with state- and community-based organizations. The 10-day, boot camp-style program provides individuals of various 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 more than 1,550 Hoosiers.

Graduates earn an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-10 certification, a Purdue University certificate of learning, and direct connection with employers eager for new talent. The compressed time frame 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 YMCA or Goodwill, which in turn have the trust of the community members they engage.

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 Authors

Matt Fieldman’s picture

Matt Fieldman

Matt Fieldman is 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, Fieldman 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. 

Blair Milo’s picture

Blair Milo

Blair Milo is the founding director of the Center for Talent & 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.