As a child, Kelley Baker always saw herself as a police officer. And why not? That’s what her father was, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. Later, she found out law enforcement wasn’t a career path most girls followed. “Back in the day, there were a lot of careers girls just didn’t consider,” she said. “But that’s not the case now. If you like to push yourself, if you like a challenge, if you like to take charge, if you like to build things with your hands – everything is an option. You can be anything you want to!”
Baker, who went on to become a correctional officer and a TSA screener, delivered the keynote address during the 2018 N.E.W. (Nontraditional Employment Opportunities for Women) conference on October 10 at the A. K. Smith Career Center in Michigan City. Eighth-grade girls from eight middle schools across LaPorte County attended the conference, which was sponsored by the LaPorte County Career and Technical Education program.
Today, Kelley Baker is the Director of Skills USA Indiana, a professional organization serving students from across the state pursing 130 different Career and Technical Education fields. “Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t get dirty,” Baker stressed. She shared the story of Rosie the Riveter – and the personal stories of several colleagues who are successful in fields typically dominated by men: a master carpenter, a fire chief, a race car driver, a truck driver, and others. Baker noted that in many non-traditional career fields, such as Welding and Transportation, there is high demand for qualified workers, male and female, and all command high salaries. “The trucking industry alone has 10,000 unfilled positions right now,” she said. “We need more women with CDL licenses!”
Following Baker’s keynote, the girls took part in roundtable discussions led by professional women from across the region. Special guests leading the roundtables included women from LaPorte County EMS, LaPorte County Prosecutor’s Office, LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office, Edward Jones Financial, Larson-Danielson, New York Blower, Purdue Northwest, NIPSCO, Michigan City Police, Michigan City Dental, Steel Cities Steel, Sullair, Westville Correctional Facility, Michigan City Area Schools, Reins of Life, the Springfield Fire Department, and several others.
The conference concluded with an afternoon of hands-on “try it” activities in career fields in which women are traditionally underrepresented. These sessions gave girls an opportunity to try their hand welding, machining, firefighting, electronics, and more.
Funding and support for the conference was made possible by the Michigan City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan City Commission for Women, Women in Leadership of LaPorte County, Ann Taylor Outlet, and Garwood Orchards.