INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana runs on the power of manufacturing and, with thousands of jobs in that field unfilled, many are left wondering if the remaining companies now scrambling will move, taking their business, and Indiana’s economy, with them.

“Manufacturing is 30% of our gross domestic product in Indiana. Our state’s economy depends on manufacturing. If manufacturing goes away, you won’t need hospitals, fast food, stores, our economy depends on manufacturing,” said Sue Smith, Ivy Tech vice president for Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering and Applied Science. “If we don’t have the resources for manufacturing companies to grow and prosper, they will have no choice but to leave Indiana.”

So, educators, businesses and community members are getting creative, teaming together like never before to battle the skills-gap and address the shortage.

“We really have to figure out how to not only educate our current workforce, but to also look at our future workforce and make sure they are educated, as well, to the level that they need to be,” Smith said.


To address the shortage, one must examine its causes.

“I think it’s the perfect storm on why jobs are going unfilled,” Smith said. “People don’t think manufacturing is a great career, but the average student graduates and makes $55,000 the first year.”

Another issue, Smith said, is that those already in the manufacturing field aren’t qualified for the jobs that continue to get more high tech as automation hits more assembly lines.

“We’re not going to lose in manufacturing [jobs], 95% of the jobs will still be there. They will just be different and they’ll require more skills and they’ll require us to be more innovative,” she said. “It’s just becoming more and more high tech, so the skill level has to be higher and higher and the talent has to be greater and greater.”

Indiana isn’t alone. Nationally, 508,000 manufacturing jobs were unfilled at last count, in August of last year, according to A study by that organization also points to higher skill levels needed for the jobs and low perception of manufacturing as being a good career choice, as reasons behind the troubled job sector. If things stay as they are, 2.4 million of the country’s manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled through 2028, according to The Manufacturing Institute.


To address the skills gap, officials from Samtec and a handful of other Scott County manufacturing plants got together in late 2016 to determine what skills were lacking in their workplaces, and how to meet those needs with employee training.

Of that came the Regional Manufacturing Alliance, which includes seven companies, the Scott County Economic Development Corp. and Mid-America Science Park. Their goal: training incumbent workers to address short- and long-term workplace needs.

“We all agreed we’re not going to be a competition. We’re going to be a collaboration,” said Craig Mull, chairperson of the alliance and 23-year Samtec employee. “We’re not going to try to steal each other’s employees. We’re going to truly try to understand the gaps, what the skills gaps we’re seeing in the country.”

They’ve teamed with Vincennes University to create a curriculum of work-based courses. The classes are specifically tailored to address the skills gap at those seven companies. Most of the courses are 15 weeks long and are located within two miles of those originating companies.

“The main thing is the curriculum and training are specifically designed so that whoever takes the class, whether that be an existing technician or supervisor, it’s something that can be put to use immediately,” Mull said. “When you start talking about apprenticeships and things like that, those are longer-term programs. These programs are designed to enhance their skill tomorrow.”

The group is working with the state’s Next Level Jobs program to secure $70,000 in grant money to fund the educational programs.

The collaboration shown by the Regional Manufacturing Alliance could be the poster child for the goal of the Next Level Jobs program, according to Blair Milo, Indiana’s first secretary for Career Connections and Talent.

“They recognized, and we’re seeing this happen in many areas across the state, that the value of collaboration is huge,” Milo said.


But to address to projected national shortage, the education needs to start earlier — much earlier.

Bryon Silk, CWD executive director of Business Services, said he thinks the target needs to be just after elementary school.

“I think a lot of it starts earlier than the young adults. It goes a little deeper into middle school and some of what manufacturing is thought of, that it is dark, dirty and dingy, and it’s not that anymore,” Silk said. “We have to educate children more of what manufacturing is.”

Exhibit A: Samtec’s Scottsburg plant, a gleaming, 70,000-square-foot palace of electronic connector manufacturing that employs 330 people.

The facility is a prime example that the manufacturing industry has changed.


Once that younger population gains interest in the field, then later receives the required training, it’s on to connecting them to the opportunities available, especially in Indiana.

“I think in Indiana we have some incredible talent and increased opportunities for that talent,” Smith said. “It is making that match is what we’re trying to do.”

To accomplish that, Ivy Tech has partnered with Tallo, an online platform aimed at connecting talented students with employers.

“We really wanted to focus on one of the greatest needs in the state of Indiana, how do we continue to fill the talent pipeline in one of the state’s most critical fields, which is manufacturing,” said Casey Welch, CEO and co-founder of Tallo. “[The question was] how do we connect those students who are going through that pipeline to the companies? …The connection wasn’t really there outside of the traditional career fair.”

So they are meeting them where the students are familiar: online.

The Ivy Tech-Tallo partnership is still in its infancy stage, with the full launch expected in a few months, as more employers are brought on board.

All this effort throughout the state to address the skills gap and worker shortage is expected to pay off, not just for the companies, but in the economy. According to The Manufacturing Institute, every dollar in output from the manufacturing industry generates another $1.89 of additional value, and every direct job creates 2.5 additional jobs in the U.S. economy.

Former News and Tribune staff member Jason Thomas contributed to this report.

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I cover education and government for the News and Tribune.