The C4 Columbus Area Career Connection and its industry partners are working to develop a two- or three-year curriculum modeled after a polytechnic institute that will offer a pathway to a career as a maintenance technician in electronics or machining.
If successful, the initiative could be adapted to other regions of Indiana.
One area executive said careers in technical maintenance and machining top the “hot jobs list.” More than 5,000 manufacturing jobs are expected to open up in the region in the next few years, but companies struggle to fill them, even though they typically offer entry-level salaries near $40,000.
Experts say the workforce is about 80 percent qualified now, but that could flip to 20 percent as trained technicians retire and their positions open up. Industry and education leaders are collaborating with C4 to fill the skills gap.
The effort is made possible by a $204,805 grant from the Indiana Works Council and the Center for Education and Career Innovation. It is part of $4.3 million in funding distributed to career and technical education programs around the state, designed to encourage innovative and collaborative career and technical training.
Local industrial partners pitched in matching funds to support the new curriculum, which will cover skills deemed necessary in electronics or machining such as safety, welding and gauge reading. Pending approval from the state Department of Education, students can enroll by fall of 2015.
Those partners have pledged more than just dollars. Several companies will encourage their employees to serve on advisory boards and participate in recruitment activities. Others will assist in curriculum development, serve as classroom presenters and host teachers on summer- and fall-break training.
One of the hurdles to filling these needed technical positions is the outdated notion of the industrial workplace. It’s no longer dirty or smelly. In addition, there’s a stigma attached to career and technical education and to manufacturing. But, as one educator put it, this is not your father’s shop class any more.
Providing the skills needed for the modern workplace will help students move more easily into good-paying, stable jobs with area manufacturers.
The Columbus program offers a solid model that other career centers can effectively emulate and then adapt to meet their unique regional needs.