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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Nick Stolle tests espresso modules for water leaks, at the Modbar manufacturing facility on Leesburg Road.

Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:00 am

A slight to manufacturing

After new website, better local recruiting pipeline needed

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

By the numbers

9,000: Total manufacturers in Indiana

526,394: Hoosiers employed in manufacturing as of December

$98.4 billion: Indiana's 2016 economic activity created by manufacturers

$1,152: Average weekly pay in manufacturing during last year's fourth quarter

Source: Indiana Manufacturers Association

A new website created to match middle school students with careers is causing heartburn in the state's manufacturing industry.

Indiana Career Explorer allows anyone, including adults, to answer assessment questions and find out which jobs mesh well with their interests and abilities.

Of the 152,000 sixth- through 12th-graders who took the assessment last year, only about 6,300 saw the manufacturing cluster returned as one of their top three matches – or about 4 percent. 

The software, created by career guidance company Kuder, groups all potential careers into 16 broad clusters.

“We have to fix this. This is critical,” said Stephanie Wells, vice president of workforce development policy for the Indiana Manufacturers Association. She and other IMA officials were in town Wednesday to meet with members at Fort Wayne Metals.

The 1,400-member trade group's top priority is creating a pipeline of skilled applicants who want to work in manufacturing.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development projects job openings for the coming decade, based on annual surveys of more than 10,000 Indiana employers. Using those numbers, the state forecasts that 283,980 jobs will be created that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree by 2027.

To fill them, the region needs students to train as electricians, plumbers, mechanics and machine operators.

Brian Burton, the IMA's president and CEO, said manufacturers have to do more to change factories' dirty jobs image. The industry, he said, increasingly operates high-tech equipment in clean environments without threat of seasonal layoffs.

Wells is attacking the issue at the legislative level, working to get grants and programs to expose adults and students to factory settings.

“Career and technical education in Indiana is not as robust as it needs to be,” she said.

The Career Explorer website, now being used in 15 schools, will become part of the Indiana eighth-grade curriculum in one or two years, depending on whether the trial phase is extended beyond the 2017-18 school year.

IMA officials support the effort – as long as it effectively points people toward careers in manufacturing. They have complained to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state agency that oversees it.

Nicholas Goodwin, the department's chief strategy officer, said state officials are working with IMA and vendor Kuder to adjust the questions, if appropriate.