State official: Indiana must strengthen workforce

Tribune-Star/Howard GreningerSpeaking: Darrel Zeck, executive director of the state office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, speaks during a work-based learning program Thursday at the Ohio Building in downtown Terre Haute. Zeck said the No. 1 obstacle to business growth in Indiana is a supply of human capital.

NEW ALBANY — For six weeks Darrel Zeck and Carrie Lively have traveled the state, promoting Indiana's new office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship and how it can help employers find a viable and sustained workforce. Wednesday morning, the two visited the WorkOne Southern Indiana office in New Albany to talk to a handful of human resource directors and company representatives about programs — from internships to on-the-job training — to help fill those needs.

Zeck said the No. 1 obstacle to company growth is human capital. He added that over the next 10 years there will be one million job openings in the state. Who will fill those openings? He said to help reduce a high turnover rate, apprenticeships and some sort of job training program are keys. That is where his office can help.

The Indiana Office of Work Based Learning & Apprenticeship, which was created by Gov. Eric Holcomb in June, is tasked with improving and creating state initiatives to increase Earn and Learn and other work-based learning opportunities throughout the state. The ultimate goal is to help employers struggling to find employees. The Office of Work-based Learning & Apprenticeship is part of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

"We want to offer people careers, to set them up for long term," Zeck said.

He knows what he is talking about.

At his former employer, Stark Industries in Terre Haute, he helped initiate a program to provide high school and college-age students, and adults looking for a job a work-based learning opportunity. He either went to classrooms to talk to students, or hosted an open house and gave tours of the facility. Once they had an idea of what kind of jobs were available, Stark provided them with summer internships that included a six-week paid program. He said that led to an 86 percent hire and retention rate, and the company was able to grow.

Alan Taylor, director of Prosser Career Education Center in New Albany, operates a similar program with 10 of the trades offered at the school with micro internships. In the first year of the program, students job shadow their field of interest. In their second and final year in the program, they spend five days at the company, working and completing various tasks.

"They apply some of the skills in the workforce environment," Taylor said. "We want our business partners to give them meaningful activities."

Zeck said it's important for businesses to identify their workforce needs, and once those have been identified his office can help find a solution to fill those needs through different paths which include job shadowing, internships, adult education, adult Earn and Learn, and registered apprenticeship.

The key is to capture the 62 percent of high school seniors in the state who, in six years, still have no career plans or goals.

Lively, senior director of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, said work-based learning can help find "real solutions to workforce challenges."

"The end goal is to get someone into a career," she said. "For years, we heard all kids should go to college if they want to be successful. Now is a time to address those misconceptions. There are other ways to be successful in life."

Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Contact him via email at chris.morris@newsandtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NAT_ChrisM.

I am an assistant editor, cover Floyd County news and enjoy writing feature stories on interesting people in Southern Indiana.