HUNTINGTON – About 40 officials from throughout the region gathered at Huntington University on Monday to coordinate efforts on behalf of about 700 factory workers scheduled to lose their jobs within the next two years.
United Technologies Electronic Controls officials in February announced plans to move about 700 jobs to Mexico beginning in the middle of next year for competitive reasons. The company makes controls for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration units.
Northeast Indiana Works organized the gathering that included officials from Huntington, Noble, Wabash and Grant counties; the Indiana Department of Workforce Development; various training and social services providers; and legislators’ representatives.
Timing will be critical, Rick Farrant said after the meeting.
The spokesman for Northeast Indiana Works said many workers will likely remain with UTEC until their positions are eliminated in order to take advantage of benefits negotiated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents hourly workers.
Dominique Millard, the company’s senior human resources manager, outlined the severance package, which includes various bonuses, six months of medical insurance benefits, and free tuition and fees for college and technical training courses.
"We don’t want to be too early, and we don’t want to be too late" with assistance, Farrant said. "It’s a delicate dance."
Gary Gatman, Northeast Indiana Works’ executive vice president of strategic initiatives, outlined the assistance being planned so far.
Early intervention will assist workers in assessing their existing skills and planning for the future while they’re still employed. Human services will offer housing, child care and transportation assistance for those workers who go back to school.
Skills training will be offered for those who want to acquire degrees or new skills to change careers. Some short-term training programs last just four to 18 weeks, he said.
Workshops and computer classes will show affected workers how to prepare résumés and search online for jobs.
One challenge, Gatman said, is that many of the workers don’t realize how well their existing skills can translate to other workplaces.
"I think it goes without saying there will be a need for a lot of one-on-one help," he said. "The silver lining in this is there are a lot of you that care."
Another advantage, officials said, is that they rarely have so much advance notice of significant job cuts. That allows them more time to research workers’ needs and devise strategies to meet them.
Efforts will include surveying workers to discover whether they have needs unmet by the extensive planning.
Farrant stressed that everyone offering assistance to UTEC workers should keep other providers informed by sending information to his office, where it will be posted online.
Kristie Trick attended the meeting on behalf of Freedom Academy, which offers certification programs for various skills such as welding.
The Kendallville organization partners with Northeast Indiana Works to ensure the courses it offers are addressing employers’ needs.
Trick found the meeting helpful.
"We kind of were hearing bits and pieces of what was coming," she said. "It’s impressive that they’re tackling what could be a crisis in a proactive manner."