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Building our Future Workforce

So who is responsible for making sure today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s jobs? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. The truth is that responsibility doesn’t fall to any one individual or organization but instead rests in widespread community collaborative effort.

Traditionally, the bulk of that burden has fallen to our schools and the teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. They’ve been tasked with giving students a broad knowledge base, helping students hone specific skills, identifying student interests and encouraging career paths that align with those special skills and knowledge.

Parents play a critical role too, often influencing and guiding students as they seek to answer that age old question of “what they want to be when they grow up?” Parents also provide that crucial home support base that supplements the work going on in the schools with their children.

And businesses are recognizing they also must help develop that pipeline of workers. A recovering economy with low unemployment has left a fierce competition for talent. As the quality of applications for open positions has deteriorated, businesses know that the status quo won’t do and that the time is now to roll up their sleeves and make sure future employees know about opportunities in particular industries.

Many of yesterday’s most reliable positions and industries are finding it hard to attract young talent to open opportunities. Positions like manufacturing workers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades are currently filled by an aging workforce that will need to be replaced in the near future.

The nature of many of the positions has changed over the years and the perception of those jobs doesn’t always match-up with the current reality. Last week in St. Joseph County, four school corporations, thirty businesses and more than six hundred students came together to help change that perception on Manufacturing Day 2016.

The local effort was organized through a partnership that includes the Chamber, National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) Michiana Chapter, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue Polytechnic South Bend, South Bend Community School Corporation Career & Technical Education, Career Academy, Mishawaka High School, Penn High School and many manufacturers and supporting organizations who hosted tours and shared their stories with students.

Similar days were organized across the Country, including other local efforts in Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan and Elkhart and Marshall Counties in Indiana. Manufacturing remains a key part of our local economy, representing about 15% of our total workforce in St. Joseph County. That number is higher in neighboring counties like Elkhart.

During the course of the day students visited with local businesses and Ivy Tech and had an opportunity to see first-hand the work environment and ask questions that ranged from pay and benefits to training requirements for specific positions.

Why manufacturing? Demand is driving the attention. Eighty four percent of executives surveyed agree there is a talent shortage in the industry and six out of ten open skilled production positions are unfilled due to this talent shortage

Also, today’s manufacturing is technologically advanced, with ample use of automation, 3-D printing, robots, and screen technology. And manufacturing jobs traditionally pay better. In the South Bend region, the annual average salary of manufacturing workers starts at $33-40,000, with the ability to grow into positions that could average $75,000+. Manufacturing employees also traditionally have longer tenures on the job and most have medical benefits.

Manufacturing day was a great example of what happens when businesses and schools come together to collaborate. The winner, students who now have a better understanding of career options in our community. The community also wins, as the manufacturing day model is easily replicated with other high growth industries.



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