PHOTO CAPTION: Darke County’s manufacturers and educators meet regularly to discuss ways to promote and implement workforce development in local schools.
GREENVILLE – Darke County is making headway in training the next generation of workers. One might think that is an odd statement and respond, “Our kids are going to school. Of course we’re training the next generation of workers.” Yes, but not too long ago sending kids to school didn’t mean they were preparing for today’s workforce.
According to Darke County Economic Development Director Marc Saluk there was at least a 20 year gap when no one wanted to discuss workforce development, which ultimately led to a shortage of workers coming out of high school and college ready for a career in manufacturing. The industry was changing quickly and manufacturers and educators were not on the same page.
It didn’t take long after Saluk took the reins of the economic development office for him to realize that something needed to be done. He would talk to local industry leaders and they would share their concerns. He talked to local educators and learned their issues. He realized it was a matter of getting both into the same room to have a discussion. The first meeting included a representative from Midmark, Greenville Technology, Inc. and Tri-Village Schools. Those initial discussions have since led to hiring a workforce development specialist in the economic development office. Lisa Wendel, a former school superintendent, has held that position for the past two years.
Today, the committee that started with three persons has grown to a great mixture of educators and manufacturers that meet monthly. Members now include Superintendents Jeff Patrick of Franklin Monroe, Aaron Moran of Versailles and Jason Stephen of Arcanum-Butler; Matt Sutter represents Ansonia; manufacturers include Barry Hounshell of Ft. Recovery Industries, Sue Hulsmeyer (an original member) of Midmark, Craig Evers of Midmark, and Dave Dunaway of Ramco Electric Motors.
Is this committee making a difference? Wendel believes it is. In a short amount of time they have been able to change perceptions – starting with educators. Superintendents from across the county have visited area manufacturers and learned it isn’t the same industry their parents and grandparents knew. Those tours are now being given to principals, guidance counselors and teachers. Wendel believes the top down approach is necessary if perceptions are ever going to change. Last year, all sophomores in the county were given an opportunity to see what manufacturing looks like. They were shown how many career possibilities there are in manufacturing – from the production line to engineering, machining, welding and robotics. That program will continue for this year’s sophomores.
The manufacturers and educators have a new set of goals for this year and it will be up to Wendel to make sure it gets implemented. Once instituted, these goals will meet several needs for the industry on many levels; including changing the perception of manufacturing, keep the best and brightest in Darke County, and encouraging more students to pursue post high school degrees in engineering.
Wendel is hoping to implement several new programs this year, including a work fair for graduating seniors, paid internships for high school students enrolled in manufacturing technology programs, and a Job Shadow Week for this year’s juniors.
Other programs in the works include encouraging/organizing junior high pre-engineering courses; encouraging increased employment of teens and graduates at Darke County manufacturing sites; facilitating partnerships between schools and industry; and matching a class at each school to a manufacturer to solve an active problem they are experiencing.
With it still being too early to have statistics on the workforce development initiative, Wendel is looking at other factors to determine if they are on the right track. By 2018, they are hoping to triple the number of Darke County high school graduates who leave high school with training in manufacturing technologies, double the number of students who pursue engineering degrees, an increasing number of graduating seniors seeking employment at local manufacturers and increasing the number of high school students employed part-time by the county’s manufacturers.
Wendel and Saluk encouraged local job seekers to visit HometownOpportunity.com to learn more about positions available locally.