by Thomas P. Healy
Fostering a dependable pipeline of talented, educated, and motivated workers able to participate in the 21st-century economy is the number-one challenge facing politicians, educators, and business leaders.
Ivy Tech’s flagship campus on the banks of Fall Creek in Midtown is a key ally in the statewide effort. “Community college has reinvented itself,” says Matthew Etchison, vice president for information technology at Ivy Tech’s workforce alignment department. “It’s taking industry people like me and putting them in roles to generate a pipeline of people the IT industry wants to hire.”
Etchison spent two decades in the IT world before being recruited by Ivy Tech to head up the IT element of the school’s workforce alignment program. A nine-person team works with five economic sectors: IT, healthcare, supply/logistics, agriculture, and construction. “Every sector is constantly changing and technology is constantly evolving,” he said. “We try to get people to realize a degree isn’t terminal, it just opens up opportunities for you.”
Etchison is Ivy Tech’s lead in Pathfinder Indy, a pilot workforce development partnership with IT giant Salesforce and consulting firm Deloitte. “Ivy Tech is the only school in the entire country offering this opportunity to learn Salesforce hard-tech skills and also have a soft skills component with Deloitte.”
Jennifer Stredler is vice president of workforce development at Salesforce.org, a philanthropic nonprofit independent of the eponymous publicly traded cloud computing company. “Pathfinder Indy is a focused program that provides training for software development and management jobs,” Stredler said. “These are two of the top 10 tech jobs. Every company using Salesforce needs talent to manage the platform,” she said.
Salesforce.org has committed to training 500 local workers by 2020. The first cohort of 50 has recently completed the four-month program. “We want to help participants in being future-ready and make sure women and minorities are prepared to succeed in a difficult economy,” she said.
“We have to train people to be lifelong learners,” Stredler said. “We don’t know what jobs will be like in 10 to 15 years, so we have to get them to think how to have the grit and discipline to learn new things—that’s part of the professional skills training offered by Deloitte.”
The nonprofit’s support for the Indy Women In Tech partnership with the IvyWorks program is another example of Salesforce’s commitment to Indy. “The program is designed to increase the number of women enrolling in and completing career pathways in tech and to break down the barriers that have prevented women from succeeding in the tech discipline,” Stredler said.
She said the program has three components: financial support for tuition, books, and transportation; comprehensive wraparound support, including housing, food, and access to childcare; and a paid internship.
“The internship is a critical component of the program,” Stredler said. “We were hearing from Ivy Tech that the women were having to make a choice between a paid job or an unpaid internship. We don’t want women to have to make that choice. A paid internship provides a hands-on experience that will really help students.”
Ivy Tech’s Etchison said the interns earn $20 an hour. “It’s a viable wage for most people looking to jumpstart a career.” He said a Salesforce grant for $200,000 covers intern funding and wraparound services. “This is true workforce alignment—learning skills and getting connected to an employer,” Etchison said. “The diploma or degree gets you the interview and the skills get you the job.”
According to Teresa Hess, executive director of apprenticeship studies at Ivy Tech, the community college has maintained its roots in the vocational education realm by offering programs in the building trades.
“Ivy Tech entered into a partnership with building trades in 1994,” Hess said, and offers a “work and learn experience” so students work full time at an apprenticeship program while Ivy Tech supplies a general education. “Upon successful completion, a student gets an associate’s degree from Ivy Tech and a journeyperson’s card.” She called the U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship program “an invaluable tool. It’s a portable credential that one can take anywhere in the country.”
Hess said “the associate’s degree is like icing on the cake. They’ve gotten the general education components as well as the technical core. That’s important to families who might have been reluctant to see a child go into the building trades without additional education.”
This is welcome news for the construction industry, which is facing a critical workforce shortage at a time when business is booming. A survey [PDF] of Indiana construction firms this summer by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 72% of respondents are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions.
“Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread,” said AGC chief economist Ken Simonson.
Respondents to AGC’s survey reported the greatest difficulty was in filling positions for concrete workers, electricians, pipe layers, sheet metal workers, laborers, heavy equipment operators, and cement masons.
Ivy Tech’s Hess said all of those trades and more are part of the program. “Our apprenticeship programs are a fabulous way for individuals to work and learn.
We have 14 different trades including sheet metal, carpentry, plumbers and fitters, bricklayers, and iron workers.”
“A lot of people have a concept of what construction used to be,” she said. “Some of the trades are automated now, and it’s important to show students what the construction industry is today.” Hess said students at a recent event were surprised at how drones are used on a construction site. “Construction is not like it was 30 or 40 years ago,” she said.
In May, Mayor Joe Hogsett launched Indy Achieves, a program within EmployIndy, Marion County’s workforce development agency, designed to make post-secondary credentials and degrees available to every Indianapolis resident. After receiving initial funding in June, Hogsett appointed Matt Impink to serve as executive director of the initiative.
“We have a huge gap we have to close,” Impink said. “We know that by 2020, 62 percent of jobs are going to require post-secondary education. We’re very far behind that in Marion County—only 42 percent of Marion County adults have a high-quality degree or credentials.”
“We hear from employers constantly that they are not able to get the skilled workers they need for the 21st-century economy,” he said. But a four-year degree is not the solution for everyone, as the typical college student of today is much different than the stereotype of a generation ago. “The typical college student today is working part time and going to a community college, and the average age is 23 to 25 years old,” he said.
Impink said a typical credential in the state’s Next Level Jobs program involves taking seven classes at Ivy Tech. “You can get a great deal of skills out of that and go into advanced manufacturing right out of the gate,” he said. “There are employers looking to hire those folks right away because the demand is so high.
“We have to be far more purposeful in how we fund those students and get those students their high-quality degree or credentials,” Impink said.
Indy Achieves will work on mentorship and coaching for students to help complete the transition from high school. “We want to make sure they have a great deal of support once they are in a post-secondary program.”
The $2 million appropriation for Indy Achieves within the 2019 budget recently approved by the City-County Council will provide the necessary funding to low-income students who need help with out-of-pocket expenses like books or other supplies. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of students are either choosing not to go into post-secondary education because of costs or they are getting behind with their bills and getting behind in terms of completing on time,” he said. “With targeted dollars we can make a big impact for students so they’re matriculating into post-secondary programs and completing faster.”
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 2018 print edition.