Indiana Workforce Success Story: Skill UP Indiana! Grants

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Indiana Workforce Success Story: Skill UP Indiana! Grants

By Kara Kavensky

INDIANAPOLIS (April 17, 2017) – Indiana needs to fill more than one million jobs over the course of the next ten years. In order to meet that demand of Indiana’s workforce, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development created the Skill UP Indiana! grant program in 2015. Since its modest start two years ago, nearly $19 million in grant funding has been provided to support community partnerships in developing youth and adult education and training opportunities aligning with employer needs. Awarded programs equip Hoosiers with specific skills necessary to fill many of these jobs.

By focusing employers, industry and education on the skills gap, the Skill UP grant program is an exemplary model of how career and technical education can help train and educate our workforce by bridging this gap. In addition to the $19 million invested through DWD Skill UP grants, $11 million in privately matched funds illustrates the level of commitment through the investment from the private sector.

Junior Achievement of Central Indiana JobSpark

With the motto: “Hands on. Minds open,” Junior Achievement of Central Indiana created an ambitious two-day event, transforming much of the Indiana State Fairgrounds into the largest-scale career fair in state history. More than 7,000 students from 40 schools participated, enabled by 115 area businesses and 3,000 volunteers who successfully engaged 7th and 8th graders from across Marion County with exposure to 8 different career clusters consisting of 100 different hands-on experiences.

JA JobSpark co-chair Sherrie Bossung, Director, Community Engagement & Vice President, Lilly Foundation states, “The kids were engaged and the volunteers were super. Our metrics after the 2-day event were encouraging.

There is tremendous need and opportunity to bring the community together in support of inspiring and empowering our young people to own their own future success,” said Jennifer Burk, President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana. “This community-wide effort was a highly impactful, long-term, self-sustaining effort to help improve Indiana’s workforce.”

Eleven Fifty Academy

Eleven Fifty Academy is a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of mobile, web, and professional courses through immersive learning at subsidized rates, made possible through partnerships, corporate and individual donations. The DWD Skill UP grant of $635,000, with private matching of $159,250, was used towards creating and implementing and improving their apprentice program and included adding an outreach element enabling 25 underserved Indiana communities to experience a Cool Coding Awareness Week.

The mission of Eleven Fifty Academy is to build an ecosystem of coding talent that benefits the individual, their employer and their community. The Skill UP! grant enabled 140 statewide students moving through the apprenticeship program, with 80% of these students securing full-time employment.

“Thanks to the Skill UP! grant, Eleven Fifty Academy was able to serve 25 communities, inspiring 23,000 K-12 students,” states EFA President John Qualls.

“We placed over 80 percent of our students into jobs, raising their income by more than $1 million per student, on average, over their lifetime,” says Qualls. “In fact, with the direct $600,000 investment from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s SkillUP! grant, which provided a 166 percent return on investment for the state, we have generated $2.2 million in income tax revenue over 10 years. That’s a 667 percent ROI over 10 years!”

Jay - Blackford Manufacturing Alliance

The Jay - Blackford Manufacturing Alliance received a Skill UP! grant of $924,500 to build and facilitate an Industrial Maintenance Training program serving their region. The Skill Up grant is facilitating a need for area advanced manufacturing. Private matching funds of $2,335,352 are indicative of the demand for this service. Industry partners include FCC-Indiana, Ft. Recovery Industries, Poet Bio Refining, Sonoco, TLS-By Design, Penville Custom Cabinets, Tyson Original, NPR, QEP, 3M, Petosky Plastics, Stanley and Tru-Form Steel.

The Industrial Maintenance Training will begin in the fall, with the majority of the grant money having gone towards purchasing of necessary equipment, along with building the curriculum. The training will be used to prepare individuals for jobs in manufacturing around the needed knowledge, skills, and abilities identified by their regional partners for employability, technical skills, and creating work-and-learn opportunities for youth and adult learners leading to direct employment and improved wages. The employers play a direct role in creating the program skills and training that is offered.

“Creating a sustainable regional training center is a vital help given the limited opportunities available in our area,” says Rusty Inman, Executive Director of the John Jay Center for Learning. “We look to be a leader with this service by attracting candidates across area counties, and serving both students and adults alike.”

SIA - Lafayette

Brad Rhorer, Assistant Senior Manager of Human Resources for Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. Over the past 25 years, he’s worked his way up within SIA, which today employs 5,600 of the 17,000 manufacturing jobs in Tippecanoe County. As a high school student, Rhorer spent as much time as he could in shop class. He loved cars and went to work with SIA right after graduating from high school.

In the mid-90s, Purdue University opened a small campus on-site at SIA and Rhorer was encouraged by his leadership to go back to school. The result was a 4-year degree in Organizational Leadership - paid for by his employer. Rhorer then earned another degree in Human Resource Management.

In order to continue professional development and growth for potential employees, SIA created RAMP, a 4-week program to introduce candidates to basic manufacturing skills, problem solving, trouble shooting, OSHA training, understanding supply chain, and quality assurance. At the completion of the 4-week introductory course, participants earn a completion certificate from Purdue University. While this course was helpful, more needed to be done in order to provide a smoother transition to the workforce for the RAMP candidates. SIA then applied for a Skill UP grant.

The Skill UP grant funds a 5-week internship with manufacturers such as Wabash National, Caterpillar, Kirby Risk, Heartland Automotive, and of course, SIA. The results have been promising. With the goal of 450 people trained, 422 have gone through the program thus far, with 88 percent currently employed after successfully completing the internship phase.

“(Indiana) Workforce Development offers assistance through their life coaches with the WorkOne office to help workers think through their challenges, decision-making, and provides any needed support services,” says Rhorer. “We have seen a 25% reduction of our attrition rate since implementing the program. This is a drastic reduction in turnover.”

It is the targeted training provided by Skill UP that is making the difference.

The biggest reason why I personally enjoy working with DWD’s Skill UP grant is that it pulls the community together,” states Rhorer. We all have similar needs, and if we work collectively, it will have a much stronger impact.”

With a $2.2 million state investment, individuals with a minimum education requirement of a high school diploma can earn $14/hour to $25/hour by participating in such programs. With 2,000 to 2,500 high school seniors graduating each year in Tippecanoe County, manufacturing jobs are receiving more than a second glance, especially given that 35 percent of the county’s workforce is currently eligible for retirement.

The Indiana DWD Skill Up grant program is delivering on a much-needed gap in Indiana’s workforce. By providing the necessary exposure to careers, skills and training, employers are requiring, Skill UP is elevating Hoosiers across the state into more skilled and higher paying positions than ever before.  For more information on Skill UP Indiana!, please visit:


Kara Kavensky is a freelance writer based in Fishers, Indiana.


For additional information, contact:

Kayli Schroeder, 317-232-7358,

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