La Porte County SkillUp funded program provides coursework, lab work and real-world experiences

La Porte County SkillUp funded program provides coursework, lab work and real-world experiences
By: Center of Workforce Innovations Last Updated: June 22, 2020

The SkillUp program and A.K. Smith Career Center provide trained interns and employees in the field of air compression and vacuums to manufacturing facilities throughout LaPorte county and neighboring communities.

Located in Michigan City, the A.K. Smith Career Center provides students an opportunity to learn all about manufacturing through classroom, lab and real-world experiences. The program will help high school students and those enrolled in Adult Education to be better prepared for employment in a technical work environment.

“Every high school in LaPorte County has the opportunity to participate in our vocational programs,” explained Audra Peterson, principal at the career center. “It’s a unique and worthwhile program that allows students who are interested in a manufacturing career to get a head start while earning dual credits from Ivy Tech as well as their current high school.”

Programs include automotive, construction and manufacturing technology as well as several other options. During the last three years, the career center collaborated with the SkillUp program available through the Center for Workforce Innovations (CWI) and the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board (NWIWB), and funded through a grant from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

CWI and NWIWB provide oversight of the La Porte County SkillUp program. They facilitated partnerships with local schools and manufacturers to make certain the grant money is used to improve the skillset of current employees, as well as provide educated and trained workers for the future.

SkillUp program funds are used to teach students Manufacturing 101 at the career center – a skill set that includes the basics of welding, machining, electrical, CNC programming, and more. “Students who complete the Modern Machine Technology program can take the CPT (Certified Production Technician) test,” Peterson said. “Many local manufacturers that we partner with are looking for employees who have that skill set and certification in their toolbox.”

The program was developed in consultation with regional business and industry to prepare students for entry-level employment in the metalworking and manufacturing fields. High-tech laboratory experiences give students hands-on opportunities to work with engine lathes, milling and drilling machines, and much more.

For example, skills in the field of air compressors and vacuums are in high demand throughout LaPorte County. “Skill Boss is a tool we use in our program that provides training for interns and employees in the field of compression and vacuums,” Peterson said. “Our curriculum includes machining fundamentals, applied mathematics, introduction to print reading, assembly, pneumatics, and CAD & CAM training.”

In the Spring of 2019, the A.K. Smith Career Center partnered with Sullair, an industry leader in compressed air solutions located in Michigan City, to provide an intern from the Modern Machine Technology program. The intern was assigned to Sullair’s machine shop.

“We assigned Tyler Combs to the machine shop so that he could learn all about the air compression technology we use, and also have an opportunity to use the skills he learned from the career center program,” Kelly Molchan, talent acquisition specialist at Sullair. “He worked part-time through the Spring of 2019 and then switched to full-time when school finished up for the summer.” Combs attended New Prairie High School and was a Senior in the Spring of 2019.

The internship was a great success story, according to Molchan. “The career center program taught Combs the skills he needed, including many soft skills about ethics and responsibility that are so important in the work environment,” she said. “We assigned him to a mentor from our machine shop, and our employee was very impressed with what Combs brought to the table, and what he learned during his internship.”

The pandemic has paused the internship program at Sullair and at other local manufacturing businesses. “We plan to help place more of our students as soon as possible,” Peterson said. “The manufacturing community is always looking for trained interns and employees. Our programs have a great success rate, and we get valuable feedback from businesses that help refine what we teach. The grant funds from SkillUp allow us to expand our programs.”

SkillUp is also available for current employees who want to improve their skill set and move up in the manufacturing field. Businesses who are interested in learning more can contact the Center for Workforce Innovations.

High school students and parents are encouraged to contact the school’s career counselor to learn more about SkillUp. Those out of school but looking for a manufacturing career should contact the closest WorkOne office. INFO BOX:

Manufacturers participating in SkillUp include: Renolit MCTD Inc. Sullair Sullivan Palatek Packaging Logic Inc. Arconic Master Roll Manufacturing American Licorice Company

Schools participating in SkillUp include: Ivy Tech Community College Purdue University Northwest LaPorte Community Schools
Michigan City Area Schools New Durham Township Schools South Central Community School Corporation Tri-Township Schools