What's New

  ·   By Brett Hofer, Business Leaders United/ Medium   ·  Link to Article

Why we should invest in college-industry partnerships

A couple days a week, junior and seniors from an Indiana high school leave their classroom to learn in a different setting. Inside the walls of local manufacturing businesses, one student applies a lesson from their engineering class that semester to the design phase of metal stamping. Another practices communications skills with managers on the shop floor. A handful of these students even parlay their internships into full-time jobs after graduation.

As a former teacher who now works in the manufacturing industry, I see employers struggling to fill well-paying, middle-skill jobs that require trained workers. I also see the potential in our youth. Which is why programs like ours — which operates as a partnership between local businesses, the high school and a local community college — are so valuable.

Middle-skill jobs require more than a high school degree but less than a bachelor’s degree and they are an important part of our state and national economy. According to a National Skills Coalition analysis, just over half of all job openings between 2010 and 2022 will be for middle-skill jobs; in Indiana these jobs account for 59 percent of the labor market while only 48 percent of the state’s workers are trained for them.

Community colleges play a critical role in this equation. In Batesville, Ind., three manufacturing businesses teamed up with Ivy Tech Community College to provide apprenticeships and other forms of training, giving students access to CTE (Career & Technical Education) programs. These programs provide training to move into these middle-skill jobs that businesses like mine are hiring for — but there is significant room for improvement. Many education and training programs that could propel people into middle skill jobs do not meet federal requirements for financial aid or Pell grants — either because the programs are short term, or because they don’t award academic credit. This is a real setback for aspiring students who likely need financial aid as they pursue career-advancing skills in manufacturing or other high demand middle-skill occupations.

It is also a real hindrance for businesses in Indiana who are looking for workers with these very skills but lack big training budgets. Instead of competing for the few qualified workers already in the workplace, we’re focusing on the next generation of manufacturers in our state. But in order to be successful, they need access to training and education that can be costly.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence understands how important CTE programs are. While governor, he visited our facility and pushed for CTE and vocational skills training with his “Two Plan A’s” approach and created policy through Regional ‘Works Councils’, aligning local CTE to regional job demand. But more can be done — at the state and federal level.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act to increase financial support for community colleges with CTE programs for working students is the first step to build more opportunities. We should extend Pell Grants to people who want to complete short term, occupational training programs. Since not all jobs require four year degrees, it makes economic sense to extend Pell grants to people in pursuit of a license, certificate, or industry-recognized certification in order to improve their employment prospects and move up in the labor market or earn more money.

We should also invest in college-industry partnerships through the Perkins Act — and make sure that programs are aligned with the skill demands of employers in their state, and that programs resulted in a recognized postsecondary credential. New provisions must also encourage colleges to connect short-term credentials to career pathways and to ensure that people with low literacy and math skills have adequate support resources in order to succeed in the job market.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and extending Pell to these career-oriented students is one way to keep Hoosiers working, Indiana’s employers hiring and our economy working for everyone so that every American has a decent shot at breaking into the middle class.

Brett Hofer is a safety training coordinator at Batesville Tool & Die in Batesville, Ind. He is also a member of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships.


More News Clips