Northwest Indiana faces a shortage of skilled workers, but steps are being taken to change that. That’s the message the Indiana Region 1 Works Council shared with the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
Region 1 Council Chair Kris Emaus gave a presentation on career and technical education to chamber members. She says that over 70 percent of Indiana high school graduates pursue post-secondary education, but not enough of them actually go on to receive some type of credential. The goal of the Works Councils is to increase that number, at a time when thousands of skilled workers are nearing retirement age. “So it doesn’t have to be a four-year degree,” she says. “It might be some type of welding certificate or a one- or a two-year program but something to get a skill that can place them in a job. And the ones we’re most worried about are the ones that are really high-wage, high-demand jobs that will really shut down or cause businesses to leave our region.”
Emaus says most people consider the technical trades to be important for the economy, but few parents actually encourage their children to pursue careers in these fields, “Everybody seems to think, ‘I want something different/better for my child than what I had,’ when in reality these career and tech ed fields way out earn four-year degree students.”
Part of what the Works Council aims to do is bring educators and business leaders together to find better ways to connect the school experience to real-world jobs. Chamber members also got the chance to hear about a local success story in this effort.
The Pulaski County EMS Director Nikki Lowry discussed a partnership taking place, in which local high school students enrolled in a health occupation class have the chance to job shadow EMS employees. This, in turn, gave West Central senior Alex Tauber the chance to spend her last semester in high school outside the classroom. Instead, she’s taking part in an internship with Pulaski County EMS, where she gets to ride along in the ambulance and help technicians with equipment.
Even though Tauber is somewhat limited in what she’s allowed to do, Lowry says the experience gives Tauber a chance to see both the upsides and the downsides of the EMS field. “A lot of people, when they think of EMS, think of ‘Chicago Fire’ or all the television shows,” Lowry says. “Real life is not like that. They don’t show you where you’re in the ditch for two hours in an upturned vehicle with water creeping in. They don’t see you out in the middle of a blinding snowstorm with eight feet of snow trying to get your ambulance to somebody who needs help.”
Meanwhile, Tauber says the experience has given her a new perspective on her future career in the health care industry, “I like this a lot, and it definitely changed my mind. I was so interested in phlebotomy and now after being exposed to this, I’m seriously considering EMT.”
Now, Pulaski County EMS is working to put together a basic EMT class for high school students, so participants can become certified soon after graduation. Lowry says the Pulaski County EMS needs younger technicians, due to the physical demands of the work.