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Getting a head start on hire education

State lauds program to prepare students for high-tech jobs


On Sept. 26, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett delivered his state of education speech, an annual message of vital importance to anyone with a stake in the future prosperity of Hoosiers. In today’s knowledge-based economy, our educational system is our most potent economic development tool.

In addition to discussing the big-picture issues affecting our schools, Bennett highlighted specific success stories and examples of educational innovation around the state. We are pleased that he mentioned an important partnership happening right here in Fort Wayne, at North Side High School.

North Side was selected as one of eight pilot schools for a new advanced manufacturing and logistics curriculum to respond to the needs of employers in Indiana’s largest economic sector. The “Hire Technology” curriculum developed by Conexus Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College gives young Hoosiers a head start on careers in today’s high-tech factories and supply-chain operations.

Hire Technology uses a mix of traditional classwork, online and virtual lessons, and hands-on projects to expose students to these industries, moving from basic concepts to specific job skills.

When students complete the two-year program, they will have earned college credits and multiple industry-endorsed certificates (such as the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, or MSSC).

Conexus has also focused on connecting high schools with local manufacturing and logistics companies to help bring Hire Technology’s lessons to life, providing plant tours, job shadowing and other opportunities. Fort Wayne Metals has partnered with North Side High, and we thank them for their commitment.

We should quickly dismiss one outdated perception – Hire Technology isn’t preparing students to stand on an assembly line or drive a forklift. Today’s manufacturing jobs require technical expertise, tech savvy, communication and teamwork strengths.

Employees in manufacturing and logistics today are operating computerized equipment, working with multi-million dollar robotic systems, managing global supply chains, acting as part of a team to anticipate and troubleshoot problems – using brains over brawn to maximize productivity. These are the skills that employers need and that Hire Technology will emphasize.

And industry demand is strong. Growth in Indiana’s manufacturing employment has outpaced every other sector in the last three years, leading the state out of the recession.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation confirms that manufacturing and logistics are the state’s largest source of new job commitments.

But the challenge of finding qualified applicants threatens to hinder this growth. Manufacturing and logistics employers are desperate for the next generation of skilled employees as they confront a rapidly aging workforce.

By introducing these fields to students early and giving them the jump on college credits and certificates, industry leaders hope to revitalize their human capital pipeline.

Conexus and Ivy Tech responded with Hire Technology, and early reviews are promising. More than 300 students are enrolled in the program in the eight pilot schools that launched it this semester, including 35 at North Side High School, and there is significant interest from superintendents and educators around the state for 2013.

We appreciate Bennett’s acknowledgement that Fort Wayne is on the cutting edge of aligning classroom learning with real-world industry needs.

Even more important, we want employers to know that our young people are being prepared for the high-tech challenges that await them after graduation – and Hire Technology is a big step in the right direction.

Kathleen Randolph is president and CEO of Northeast Indiana Workforce Investment Board. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.