Considering what vocation to pursue after high school can be a daunting task for students as they have to consider their skillset, finances, and location. With over 10 compressed air companies in Michigan City and La Porte, students interested in working with their hands do not need to venture all the way to Chicago or Indianapolis for work studies, internships, or jobs; they are wanted and needed in La Porte County.
After a test run in the 2018-2019 school year, Michigan City High School launched its Compressed Air Academy (CAA) to give students an outlet to gain skills in and learn about the compressed air career field and connect them to local companies.
Economic Development Corporation Michigan City (EDCMC) was instrumental in the creation of CAA after observing the disconnect between the potential for a qualified workforce and the current number of skilled employees in the local compressed air industry.
“In 2015-16 through our Business Retention Expansion Program, we had a lot of manufacturers and local employers, and they are having a hard time finding qualified employees,” said EDCMC Executive Director Clarence Hulse. “We started doing research and found that the compressed air industry is a large industry in La Porte County. We were able to contact companies and ask ‘What’s the count for this industry?’ and there were 2000 jobs. That's probably our largest cluster in manufacturing.”
Hulse said EDCMC started looking across the country to discover if there were any compressed air training resources available to high school students. After realizing no such program existed, EDCMC decided to change that by putting in place a system to build the workforce pipeline.
“We're the only ones in the country to have a high school certification to be in the compressed air industry,” Hulse said. “We're hoping we’ll help students to become certified to work in the compressed air industry. Companies like Sullivan-Palatek Inc. , Van-Air, Dekker Vacuum-Atlas Copco and Sullair-Hitachi are some of the biggest companies in the world, and they’re right here in our backyard. We thought, ‘Why don't get our students educated and skilled so they can get a great job right here?’”
Compressed air companies were thrilled to have a local high school program in the area where they could connect with students interested in the industry. Sullivan-Palatek Director of Operations Scott Newcomb shared that his company donated one of its air compressors to the program and has connected with students for tours of its facilities.
“We want to show them the opportunities we have for them,” Newcomb said. “The biggest thing is getting the kids involved and wanting them to be part of the company and team environment. We can train them to do any job out there, they just need to have the attitude to want to go out there and do it. One of our engineers actually graduated right after the program started, and he has done fantastic things so far.”
Building a solid, skilled workforce in the community through connecting with high school students at CAA is an opportunity Sullair Vice President of Operations Chad McKeever knew was worth an investment. Sullair donated an air compressor to CAA and has valued its involvement with the students.
“I think Compressed Air Academy is appropriate for this particular region,” McKeever said. “We were excited that we were able to donate an air compressor to the academy, but moreover, we're looking for ways that we can continue to better bridge the gap and help mentor students.”
Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, the superintendent of Michigan City Area Schools, wanted to ensure that students are able to take advantage of the many opportunities that exist within the community so that they can contribute to the community. Through the companies involved in CAA, students can find jobs that will give them a high quality of life and good wages.
“We want our students to benefit, and we want the companies to benefit. We can only do that by working collaboratively to ensure that the needs of both are met,” Eason-Watkins said. “We have had a lot of students that have benefited from the program. We have had students who have gone on to direct employment with the companies in some cases. We have students that are now at Purdue in an engineering program, but they’re also working part-time at Sullair. We have other students that are at Sullivan-Palatek.”
After losing momentum due to the pandemic, Eason-Watkins said that the purpose of the reopening of CAA on October 10 was to hit the reset button on the academy and reconnect with local compressed air companies.
“We know this is important to these companies, we know it's important to our students, and we want to continue to work together and rebuild relationships so our students can thrive,” she said.
For more information about the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, visit edcmc.com.