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Indiana’s Workforce Issues Take Center Stage at 2017 State of Manufacturing & Logistics

Posted 1:13 PM by



Last week’s State of Manufacturing & Logistics event was packed with celebrations of success, including the 10th anniversary of Conexus Indiana, the 10th year of publication for the Manufacturing & Logistics National Report Card, and the incredible strides the manufacturing and logistics industries have made overall in Indiana.

However, it was clear that one issue falls short of celebration: the workforce gap that continues to plague both industries. Speakers throughout the morning offered noteworthy insight and advice that, if taken seriously, could help close this gap.

Structured, Hands-On Education Is Essential

President of Ivy Tech Community College, Dr. Sue Ellspermann, was a featured panelist at the State of Manufacturing & Logistics event. She shared that today’s industry education has to go beyond the classroom. “It is easy for those of us who are in manufacturing facilities often to know what opportunities are there,” she said. “Getting students onto the shop floor and letting them live ‘a day in the life’ helps them understand, too.”

Dr. Ellspermann emphasized that today’s manufacturing and logistics companies cannot rely solely on educational institutions to provide these opportunities before the point of hire. It is essential for industry partners to team up with colleges and certification programs to develop talented individuals in a targeted and efficient way. Brian Schmidt, a partner in Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Manufacturing & Distribution Services Group, agrees. “Companies need to not just develop education programs themselves, they need to contact their state and federal representatives to push these initiatives forward on both a regional and national level,” he says.

Diverse, Strategic Recruitment Is Necessary

Panelist Joe Loughrey, chair of both Hillenbrand Inc. and the Lumina Foundation for Education, reminded everyone that we have to look beyond the industry to our broader economic development efforts – education, specifically. “We cannot rely solely on recent graduates to carry the economy. More adults have to get more education or we will not get where we need to be,” he said. “Right now, Indiana ranks 42nd out of 50 states in terms of college degrees and professional certifications in general. That is not a good place to be if we want to maintain our status and attract new companies.”

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, observed that more connectivity might be one solution to this challenge. “I think we can do a lot more to connect the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to existing skills gap initiatives, and leverage our power together to recruit more talent,” he said. “And on a micro-level, some companies have unique needs, like Clabber Girl, or the racing engineers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We can be more tactical about satisfying those smaller-scale needs while still achieving our broad-stroke impact.”

Jobs Do Exist, but No One Knows About Them

According to panelist Chip Edgington, executive vice president of operations for FULLBEAUTY brands, manufacturing and logistics employers do not just need to work more closely with educational institutions to prepare the workforce; they also need to simply let the workforce know that high-skill, high-paying opportunities exist at all. “We really need to get aggressive and create more public awareness about how much opportunity there is,” Chip said. However, he cautioned that proceeding blindly could lead nowhere. “We also have to find a way to measure the impact of all these initiatives and assess which are succeeding and which are not so we know how to proceed.”

Workforce Is Our Biggest (and Perhaps Only) Hurdle

Dr. Michael J. Hicks, professor of economics at Ball State University, noted in his presentation of the 2017 Manufacturing and Logistics National Report that since the end of the Great Recession, Indiana is the only Midwestern state to see expansion of manufacturing beyond pre-recession numbers: 52.5 percent of Indiana’s GDP growth since the end of the recession has been in manufacturing and logistics, while neighboring states Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois have all returned to their pre-2000 manufacturing production levels and stayed steady.

Jason Patch, also a partner in Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Manufacturing & Distribution Services Group, believes these stats highlight the need to address this final hindrance to the industry. “The numbers are impressive. Indiana is a leader on the national manufacturing stage. But we have to clear this last big workforce hurdle to truly stand out.”

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Comments (1)
David W. Burgess wrote
This is a good read. I do not disagree with anything that is said here. But in Indiana there is, I feel, too much stress on post high school education. Costs aside, not everyone has the potential to successfully complete a college degree. Not everyone should even attempt it. Just in my circles of friends, family and business associates, I can't even tell you how many stories I've heard of their children leaving for college and then not be able to pass classes and succeed at the post high school academic expectations. My point is simply that our public schools are preaching college, college, college and there is this student population that is not cut out for college. This group is getting left out in the dark. This is not the only option out there folks. When I went to high school there was a very well rounded vocational prep program full of wonderful and knowledgeable teachers that did a great job of preparing this group of students for WORK. We called it shop class for the most part. I didn't go to a big school. I went to a very small high school in south-central Indiana. We have to pump up our vocational prep courses to be more what they used to be.The other HUGE issue that this article does not address is work ethic among the available workforce. I will tell you straight-up that our local manufacturing industry could double if we could find and keep people. I could grow my company. I would love to expand. I could serve my customers better by doing so. But there is virtually no available bodies in our county to hire. We hire and are lucky if they last a week. If they last a year it's a miracle. If they last two years, they're a keeper and may be here for life. The average age in my company is 42. We are practically an old folks home. There needs to be classes that teach manufacturing expectations as far as attendance, hard work, love and respect for fellow employees, etc. The pool of available employees simply are not willing to show up, give an honest days effort and do so cheerfully. Let's teach workplace ethics again. It's not all about college.
Posted Jun 16 2017 7:47 PM
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