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Porter County Career & Technical Education, Urschel Laboratories collaborate to cultivate a new workforce

By: Stacey Kellogg Last Updated: February 3, 2020

There can be no question that innovation and collaboration are making a significant impact locally on an issue that is affecting us nationwide – the need for skilled trade professionals. Perhaps one of the strongest examples of this is a unique collaboration between Porter County Career & Technical Center and Urschel Laboratories that is taking a proactive approach to workforce predictions while keeping the current landscape top of mind to fill current available positions.

On Jan. 31, about 50 counselors and school administrators from La Porte, Porter, and Lake counties convened at Urschel Laboratories in Valparaiso to share information and encourage further participation in area programs that will help develop the Region’s next generation of machining workers.

Jon Groth, the area director of career technical education for Porter County, and principal at Porter County Career & Technical Center (PCCTC), said the day’s activities were invaluable.

“The tour [of the Urschel shop and test lab] was really quite impressive. I think it showed how modern manufacturing is really clean, and how the company is on the leading edge of technologically advanced employment,” Groth said.

In the manufacturing realm, PCCTC provides programs in electronics and computer technology, industrial mechanics, precision machining, and welding technology. Connecting students with opportunities at companies like Urschel is the goal.

Jason Martin, plant manager at Urschel Laboratories, said that over the next 10 years, Urschel, like many manufacturing companies nationwide, will experience a significant reduction in seasoned workers due to retirement. The company continues to be a global leader in the manufacturing and selling of commercial cutting equipment to food processing plants and allied industries and is looking to the next generation of skilled workers to help them continue that success.

“Our goal Friday was to encourage counselors and school administrators to recognize the value of skilled trades and to see the opportunities available locally,” Martin said. “This is a problem that exists nationwide, so we are doing our part locally to get ahead of it.”

Cole Ozbolt, a former PCCTC student, presented his first-hand account of the successful path students can take in this space. Ozbolt is now working on CAD (computer-aided design) drafting with Urschel Laboratories. He started as a machinist there, and after benefitting from an Urschel Next Generation Scholarship received a degree from Vincennes University. He’s now working in their engineering department and is just about to become a homeowner for the first time.

Groth has seen dozens of students take a similar path, thanks to discussions that started about eight years ago with Urschel.

“I think the most recent count is that we have 61 of our former students working at Urschel,” Groth said. “This is a nice income, and we have cultivated skilled workers who are now working for an employee-owned company. They essentially own the business. And at the same time, Urschel is rebuilding their workforce,” he said.

During Friday’s program, Martin introduced the available job opportunities at Urschel and encouraged counselors to help guide students to a career path that is right for them. Opportunities about, including the programs like the PCCTC precision machine class, or programs at Ivy Tech. He said high school graduates will serve themselves well by becoming employed at a manufacturing plant and then perhaps enrolling in the local machinist/millwright apprentice program as well.

In all, programs offered by PCCTC and their partners are proving successful in helping guide students to meaningful and productive careers that don’t necessarily require a college degree but most definitely include comprehensive skills training in a field they love.

For more information about the Porter County Career & Technical Center, visit https://pccte.org/.