Compressed Air Academy grows high-demand area for jobs

By: Kayla Belec Last Updated: April 17, 2019

2019-Air-Compressor-AcadAs the demand for compressed air continues to grow in myriad businesses, so does the need for employees to fill production, engineering, and technical positions. Heralded by economic development officials as one of the compressor capitals of the world with its roots in the now-global corporation Sullair, Michigan City continues to foster growth within the industry. In a simultaneous effort to create sustainable careers and lifestyles for the future Region workforce, the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City (EDCMC) has teamed up with Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS) to develop the Compressed Air Academy.

For the past few years, EDCMC and MCAS have been working with local compressor companies like Sullair, Dekker Vacuum Technologies, Sullivan-Palatek, Vanair, CompressAir, and Boss Industries. Together, they’ve created a unique curriculum for high school students looking to enter the compressor/vacuum industry. The Compressed Air Academy allows participants to work directly with professionals, gain invaluable experience, and prepare to enter a lucrative, high-demand field right out of high school.

“We’re building a pipeline for these students, working to create a viable community so they can have a viable future in a booming industry, right within Michigan City,” said Clarence Hulse, Executive Director of EDCMC. “We want them to have great careers, and for Michigan City to continue to be a great place to live. This industry informs both of those objectives.”

Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, superintendent of MCAS, illustrated how the Academy picked up steam.

“Clarence Hulse became aware of the need for a quality workforce in his discussions with leaders in the industry. He connected the dots for us, bringing us together with Sullair, which was willing to donate a compressor,” she said.

“Last year, we began the process of designing a program that would be responsive to the needs of local industry,” she continued. “This started with a listening tour, where we visited local companies and toured their facilities. They sat down with our teachers and CTE Director Audra Peterson to design a curriculum that would teach students the skills to meet their needs.”

The Academy comprises a one-year track preparing students with the basic skills for an entry-level position in the compressed air or vacuum industry. Students can pursue additional coursework in manufacturing, welding, or the Energy Academy at the AK Smith Career Center. At Michigan City High School, they can pursue Construction or Intro to Engineering.

While the Academy focuses on the compressor industry, students learn tertiary skills that prepare them for other entry-level manufacturing positions as well. It’s also a good foundation for students who intend to pursue post-secondary majors in engineering and related fields, and even clerical, administrative, and marketing positions in the trade.

“Students will graduate knowing that they have a leg up on a high-demand career opportunity right here in our community,” Eason-Watkins said.

The companies involved with the program fully support this mission.

“We have helped to guide the schools on training materials, offer school tours, and have a vested stake in attracting some of the students interested in these programs into our organization in the future,” said Rich Dekker, president and CEO of Dekker Vacuum Technologies.

“We offer high-paying career paths for individuals, whether or not they want to go to college,” said Steve Van Loan, president of Sullivan-Palatek. “Not everyone wants to attend college or is equipped to do so. We offer assembly, wiring, testing, production, machining and clerical positions as well as engineering, marketing, sales and administrative positions.”

Eason-Watkins said more than 2,000 individuals from the Region are employed in the industry, and it is one of the fastest-growing sectors in business. “We want to ensure that our area remains a national leader in this industry. We also want to provide more opportunities for our graduates, so that they stay in this community, where they can be confident they will have successful careers.”

Dekker and Van Loan are excited to see perception toward the industry shifting.

“For many years, manufacturing was considered a dirty business while our students were all encouraged to go to college. Unfortunately, this just isn’t realistic and leaves a lot of kids without a clear path after high school,” Dekker said. “There has been a lack of awareness, which is changing, about the possible careers that this industry offers.”

“The Compressed Air Academy is a great program that further integrates our schools and businesses, which is so important,” Dekker continued. “Creating a clear path and presenting opportunities for all students to integrate into the workforce is a critical component to having a healthy community.”

“Michigan City has become an attractive place to live, work, and play and we have the jobs available to support our residents,” Van Loan said. “[Through the Academy] we are eager to communicate this information to them at an early age.”

“This is an exciting time for this industry, and we are excited to see it continue to grow,” Hulse said. “Through the Compressed Air Academy, we’re nurturing and investing in local skill sets so that students establish rewarding careers in their own vibrant community.”

To learn more about the Air Compressor Academy curriculum, objectives, and the industry, visit For more updates from Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City, visit