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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:52 pm

'Jobs are there' in skilled trades

Patrick Murphy | For The Journal Gazette

When Desmond Carter graduates from Bluffton High School in May, he has a good idea about his future. 

"I’m going into welding," he said. "It can lead to a good career."

Carter is among a growing number of young people becoming increasingly aware of lucrative opportunities in the skilled trades. He and others throughout Indiana and the nation know a college degree can lead to a good job. But they, and an increasing number of people with college degrees, are attracted to skilled trades by the prospect of good wages, benefits and steady employment.

"The jobs are there, for men and women," said Larry Gerardot, principal of the Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy at Anthis. The skilled trades are still male-dominated, he said, but companies need skilled people – male or female.

To help meet that need, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is implementing "Skill Up," a federal program to encourage skilled-trade training for students in high school as well as for older people thinking about changing careers.

They are encouraged to train for jobs as welders, machine operators, electricians and other positions needed to construct buildings and to make factories hum.

On Nov. 1, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s preliminary grant application was hand-delivered to Workforce Development officials in Indi­anapolis. The application – requesting $1.5 million of the $11 million in Skill Up funds available for the state – was prepared by Northeast Indiana Works, said Rick Farrant, the agency’s director of communications. The money would be used for equipment and training in northeast Indiana.

There could be some changes before Jan. 1 when the final applications are due, Farrant said.

"We’re doing a pretty good job locally to inform young people about the opportunities," Farrant said. "But it’s a challenge."

State officials agree with Fort Wayne’s approach.

"Northeast Indiana is among the best in the state in engaging with employers to assess and identify workforce needs," said Lou Ann Baker, associate chief operating officer for Workforce Development. "The Northeast Indiana Partnership strategically works with businesses and communities to establish collaborative programs to address those concerns.

"They have great leadership and boots on the ground to expand opportunities for potential workers that improve employment pipelines for business and industry,"Baker said.

But the job is daunting. Northeast Indiana will need an estimated 26,000 skilled trade workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors alone, the application notes.

"These two sectors are critical to the regional economy because both pay some of the highest wages in the region."

The shortage is expected to continue into the near future as about 20 percent of northeast Indiana’s workforce approaches retirement. One-fifth of northeast Indiana’s workforce is at or near retirement age, according to a 2014 report from Northeast Indiana Works and the Community Research Institute at IPFW.

The percentage of workers nearing retirement is even higher in public and private education, truck transportation and the manufacturing sectors, the report shows.

Rea Magnet Wire Co. is aware of the staffing concerns.

"Recruiting new employees in the skilled trades has been challenging for Rea Magnet Wire Co.," the company said in a statement. "Industrial electricians and mechanics who are qualified to maintain and repair complex manufacturing equipment appear to be in short supply. This shortage, along with today’s low unemployment rate, result in a difficult recruiting situation.

"We would like to see more people choose skilled trades careers, which provide opportunities for good wages and personal job satisfaction," the company statement said.

Other companies need skilled employees as well.

"We’re always looking for skilled people," said Tim Hartigan, vice president of operations at Hoosier Pattern Inc., a company that employs 46 in Decatur. "We’re working with schools to develop an awareness of the skilled trades. There are real opportunities there."

For a very long time we have encouraged young people to go to college, said Gerardot, principal of the Career Center at Anthis. "That’s good for some people," he said, "but there are other lucrative careers available."

To that end, the academy has recruited people from the industrial trades to teach their students. Once recruited they underwent additional certification, Gerardot said. "Our students are taught by people who have actually done the work."

One of those students is Cody Broemmel, 18, a senior in the electrical program at the Fort Wayne Career Academy. Broemmel said he may attend college, but enrolled in the academy’s electrical program to see what it was like. 

"I really like the hands-on part of electrical work," he said.

Broemmel also decided to further his career by joining the Navy. He has taken some early tests, Broemmel said, and thanks in part to his training at the academy has qualified to become a nuclear electrician’s mate after completing boot camp. He is scheduled to leave in August.