“We see skilled labor employment not as a problem anymore,” said Steve Easley.
“It’s a crisis.”
Easley, business manager for United Labor Group, one of the Dilling Group companies, described the difficulty he’s had finding welders and electricians to fill positions with the Dilling Group, an industrial and mechanical construction company based in Logansport.
Many local workers are unskilled, and still more have experience — but in doing the job with the wrong procedures, he said.
“I have other companies, other manufacturers that follow Dilling’s people around because they want to hire them,” Easley said. “There’s nobody to build things in a skilled manner.”
The Dilling Group’s woes echo those of manufacturers across the country. Much has been written and talked about within the business world of the “skills gap,” describing a widening breach between the proportion of mid-level skilled workers needed to keep the economy humming — ones with associate degrees or similar trade certifications — and the proportion of the general population that is headed toward that kind of mid-level training and career path.
A recent report by the Lumina Foundation, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education,” indicated about 65 percent of jobs will require some post-secondary education by the year 2020, but Cass County’s post-high school educational attainment level remains at just under 22 percent.
On the other hand, it’s unclear whether the skills gap is really as severe as all that. In a U.S. News report in June, Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris said that since wages aren’t skyrocketing in the STEM jobs — that is, jobs which rely on science, technology, engineering and math skills — and positions aren’t going unfilled for years, the skills gap may not be acute.
Whether it’s a mere pain to industry or threatens its life, analysts have also differed on how to fix the problem. And that’s where Easley said the Dilling Group is stepping in, in tandem with Ivy Tech Corporate College.
The two entities announced the creation of a four-year apprenticeship program last week aimed at providing full-time workers a route to certification as an industrial maintenance mechanic technician, in the process creating as many as 15 new full-time positions at local companies.
It’s scheduled to begin Aug. 19 as long as the ideal number of applicants pass the thorough screening process. Easley doesn’t foresee that to be a problem.
Any apprentices hired by the Dilling Group will be filling new positions created by the company, Easley indicated.
Ivy Tech-Kokomo Region chancellor Stephen J. Daily indicated the program is just one of several the college hopes to organize in the next several years, and encouraged other industrial businesses to partner with the college to provide apprenticeship positions.
“There are jobs available that require a variety of skills, and those skills do not appear in the current population,” Daily said. It does the area no good, he added, to attract businesses with high-paying jobs “if we don’t have a skilled work force to fill those jobs.”
Representatives of the Dilling Group and Ivy Tech started laying out plans for the apprenticeship program in September 2012. Ivy Tech applied for certification about a month ago through the Indiana Department of Labor Apprenticeship so graduates’ credentials could be recognized nationally. It obtained the certification.
Dilling has had its own in-house apprenticeship program for more than 30 years. That program trains employees primarily on specific equipment the company uses, explained Eric Ott, vice president of Dilling Group. The program has taken 150 to 200 Dilling employees through plumbing and electrical training, Ott said, and will continue to run as before. The new apprenticeship program is in addition to it, not in its place, Ott added.
The difference in the Ivy Tech-Dilling program will be that it includes college-level classroom instruction on broader topics instead of particular machinery.
Curriculum includes lessons on fasteners and anchors, craft-related mathematics, pumps and drivers, valves, construction drawings and material handling and hand rigging — and that’s just the first year.
Each of the four years is designed to incorporate 144 hours of classroom instruction as well as 2,000 hours of on-the-job training — the equivalent of a standard work year at Dilling, said Easley.
Apprentices are paid standard rates for their work, with first-year participants earning a minimum of $10 per hour. The scale rises to a minimum $18 per hour by the fourth year. And that’s just the minimum, Easley said.
Students, however, will also pay their way through the college classes. The cost per year is estimated at about $3,000, according to Ivy Tech staff.
“The big benefit,” Easley emphasized, “is that the cost to them may be $3,000, but they’re going to be working.”
Program details: The Industrial Maintenance Mechanic Technician Program includes: • 576 hours of classroom instruction over four years • 8,000 hours of on-the-job training • Adheres to standards from the National Center for Construction Education and Research • May count toward an associate degree Application deadline is July 24 and the program starts Aug. 19 To learn about the application process, call Jim Saylor or Steve Easley at 574-753-3182 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.