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Alliance fosters young, experienced workforce

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Companies’ demands for workers who are prepared to fill today’s highly skilled automation and robotics jobs have inspired a program at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin that offers students real-world experience.

The program, which will begin with the spring semester in January, will give company leaders the skilled labor pool they want while allowing students to develop hands-on experience that makes them top contenders for high-paying jobs, school officials and employers said.

Local Ivy Tech leaders developed the Industrial Automation and Robotics program. It calls for classroom instruction 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. three days a week and on-the-job training with regional companies two days a week. Students who take part will need to earn 75 credits from 24 classes to earn the degree, according to the school. By comparison, other degrees at Ivy Tech require only 60 credit hours.

Kim Haza, chairman of industrial technology and advanced manufacturing at Ivy Tech, said the program is being tailored to the needs of companies. Classes cover the technical fields of fluid power, pneumatics, mechanical systems, motor controls, electrical circuits and other disciplines.

“We listened to industry partners who said the community lacks skilled tradespeople,” Haza said. “We’ve addressed their demands and come up with a great solution.”

Manufacturing jobs today are high-tech and require a lot of skill, unlike the hot and greasy image of yesteryear. As Randy Proffitt, an Ivy Tech spokesman, put it: “These days, you’re not the person making the widget. You’re the person programming and working on the machine that makes the widget.”

Steve Bardonner, dean of Ivy Tech’s School of Technology, said he thinks companies eventually will seek Ivy Tech program graduates to fill their jobs.

Companies already signed on as school-to-work partners include Caltherm, which makes thermostats and other thermal controls in Columbus, and Ryobi Die Casting, which makes automotive aluminum die casts in Shelbyville.

The Ivy Tech program will provide companies with a consistent pool of qualified and experienced graduates that they can draw from. Bringing in Ivy Tech students as employees to gain experience while attending school is a good way to help improve not only individual companies but the local economy as well.

Casey Phillips, machine maintenance supervisor for Ryobi, said: “When these kids finish school, they’ll have a solid base of knowledge. That’s the hardest thing to build.”

The Ivy Tech program is a win-win situation for workers and area employers. It fills a vital gap in the labor supply and offers students, both recent high school graduates and older workers seeking retraining, valuable skills that will lead to well-paying careers.

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