One of the questions that Starke County Economic Development Director, Charles Weaver gets is, “What’s the latest on Sysco or other industries here that want to expand?” Weaver then asks himself, “When new industries come or expand, do we have the workforce to fill the skilled positions?”
Weaver recently attended a presentation that was organized by the Northwest Indiana Forum, of which Starke County belongs, where the attendees discussed workforce readiness, and development. Starke County’s unemployment figures, although still in the double digits, have moved out of the “top 10” worst in the state, but will new industry help reduce that figure? Weaver says not if the workforce doesn’t have the skills needed by the employers.
“These skills lacking may include the inability to read, the inability to do simple math and the inability to show up for work, let alone some of the more demanding skills that are required,” said Weaver. “This was a day spent by persons in Northwest Indiana learning from others about what is being done about the status of our education and the skills of our workforce. We also talked about what others are doing to improve and what can we do.”
This predicament seemed to face employers in each of the seven counties that make up the Northwest Forum.
The keynote speaker was Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education. Weaver said Duncan’s remarks were not necessarily flattering to the state’s education system.
“If Indiana were a country, we would rank number 57 in the world as far as education,” added Weaver.
Weaver said the Economic Development Foundation has initiated discussion with the three Starke County schools to provide education for those who are not going on to college. Being brought into the discussion is the SCILL Center to help with education programs that would make students and even adults “skill ready” to fill the better paying jobs.
“There have been meetings held with the three school superintendents in Starke County who are very interested in addressing the needs of those students who are not going to college, to make certain that they have employable skills that will benefit them. We want everyone in Starke County to have meaningful employment. That means not just minimum wage, not $10.00, but wages at which they can support themselves and a family. We’re not going to do that to increase our skill levels and so our next endeavor under President Bill Sonnemaker of the Development Foundation is to take that next to the planning stages, and hopefully with the schools, be able to implement programs not only for the school-aged student but also the existing workforce.”
As a source of pride was the fact that Secretary Duncan acknowledged the SCILL Center, as well as Oregon-Davis High School, as entities providing education for the 21st Century. Oregon-Davis was applauded for being on the cutting edge of education for the new century by instituting its New Tech program.