Chris Wesner knows what images come to some people's minds about factory jobs: Dark, dirty and dangerous.
Problem is, those people don't know today's factory and fabrication jobs, said Wesner, vice president of customer engagement for Shambaugh & Son.
“They're well-lit. They're air-conditioned,” he said of the positions in Shambaugh's fabrication center, where skilled trades workers assemble, for example, restrooms that will be shipped and placed in commercial buildings under construction.
Local business leaders are collaborating to counter those misconceptions by inviting teachers and guidance counselors into their workplaces and asking them to carry the message into Allen County classrooms.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is taking ownership of a program created to encourage young people to pursue careers in the skilled trades, officials announced Thursday. About 70 people attended the news conference at Fort Wayne Metals Research Products Corp.
As part of the change in leadership, the Gateway Coalition, an alliance of teachers and business leaders, is being renamed the MadeByMe Coalition.
John Urbahns, Greater Fort Wayne's president and CEO, said filling skilled trades positions is the No. 1 need in our economy. That's why his organization's member businesses asked Greater Fort Wayne to bring the effort in house.
“It absolutely is critical to our community reaching its full potential,” Urbahns said of the program's success.
Shambaugh has about 40 openings in its fabrication center with no immediate prospects of filing them, Wesner said.
Tim Ehlerding, who does business development for Fetters Construction, said his Auburn employer has multiple openings, too.
“I could use 30 more masons right now,” he said, adding that he has to talk customers into delaying construction projects because of the labor shortage.
“Our limiting factor is not the number of trucks we have but the number of people we have in the field,” Ehlerding said.
Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works' spokesman, said 34,000 job openings in production and construction are expected in the next decade in Allen County alone. The openings are being driven by retirements, he said.
Northeast Indiana Works, which founded the Gateway Coalition in 2014, will remain a coalition member and continue to provide data that guides its efforts.
The MadeByMe Coalition's initiatives include inviting teachers and guidance counselors to spend up to one week learning about the skilled trades by coming into the factories. They are paid $100 a day by the host business.
Adam Welch, Greater Fort Wayne's business development director, will head the MadeByMe Coalition. He said feedback from teachers who have done externships “has been phenomenal.”
Farrant is a big fan of the program, which brings educators into local workplaces.
“From my perspective, teaching should never be done in a vacuum,” he said.
Wesner and Ehlerding said previous efforts to encourage middle and high school students to consider careers in skilled trades have been piecemeal.
“It was like herding cats,” Ehlerding said.
Both men believe Greater Fort Wayne's leadership puts the efforts under one umbrella and will increase the coordination, visibility and success.
Urbahns cautioned that business leaders shouldn't expect his organization to do all the work, however. He encouraged them to give time and money to support the effort.
“The key to success,” he said, “is business and community leaders stepping up.”