Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 13, 2013

Training the next generation

Chrysler, Ivy Tech to launch advanced manufacturing program.

By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Teenagers will complete root-cause analysis alongside Chrysler engineers in coming years through a new advanced manufacturing program.

As part of Project AIM Hire — offered through a partnership with Chrysler, Ivy Tech Community College and potentially nine area high schools — students will have the chance to gain hands-on advanced manufacturing experience while earning their high school diplomas.

“Chrysler is very excited about the opportunity to enhance central Indiana with jobs and opportunities for students,” said James Woolf, community outreach and educational engagement specialist at Chrysler’s Kokomo transmission plant. “We’re preparing students to be problem solvers, not part makers.”

Woolf gave a presentation at Eastern Howard School Corp.’s board of education meeting Tuesday, where the board gave its unanimous support for a resolution to participate in the Advanced Innovative Manufacturing (AIM) program.

Eastern joined Maconaquah School Corp., Peru Community School Corp., Northwestern School Corp., Western School Corp. and Hamilton Heights School Corp. in committing to the program. Two other area school corporations also have expressed interest in getting involved.

Chrysler, like many industrial companies across the state and nation, has found itself with an aging group of employees and a lack of skilled workers available in the job pool. In light of this skills gap, Woolf began brainstorming outreach programs in July to train the next generation of manufacturing workers.

Eastern Superintendent Tracy Caddell is excited about the opportunity. He thinks the program will appeal to a variety of students.

“It will meet a population (of students) that we haven’t reached out to in the past,” Caddell said. “For the past 20 years, we (as a state) haven’t talked about career, technical or vocational education. … We’ve put all our eggs in the basket of kids graduating from college.”

The program was first pitched to the Kokomo Area Career Center, Caddell said, but it wasn’t a viable option. Ivy Tech proved a better partner for this program.

“The long-term fix for the skills gap is starting back in high school or even eighth or ninth grade with career exploration,” said Rodni Lytle, dean of the School of Technology and School of Applied Science and Engineering Technology at Ivy Tech. “Reaching back into high school and creating that interest is something we’re very much interested in.”

The cost to school corporations will be $30 per student to upload curriculum software, plus the expense of potentially hiring a teacher and training a staff member to teach advanced manufacturing courses.

Project AIM Hire relies on Conexus Indiana’s Hire Technology curriculum, which was first piloted last school year with support from the Indiana Department of Education and Ivy Tech. The curriculum is based on industry feedback about the skills it needs from potential employees.

Participating schools can enroll five or six students in the new Project AIM Higher program, which will launch in the 2014-15 school year. Students will begin their sophomore year by taking an advanced manufacturing elective course at their own school.

In their junior and senior years, students will take general education courses at their home schools for half the day and then spend the other half of the day at Ivy Tech taking advanced manufacturing courses. Logistics still are being worked out, Lytle said.

“Ivy Tech has so much technology over there,” Woolf said at the Eastern school board meeting. “Our students will be able to do a lot of things … and have a variety of instructors in advanced manufacturing.”

For students’ final semester of their senior year, they will join a work-study program at Chrysler, spending two or three hours there each day shadowing workers through three different five-week rotations. By the end of the three-year program, students will graduate with five nationally recognized certifications, college credits from Ivy Tech and job experience.

Graduates will be in a good position to apply for a job at Chrysler, pursue a different skills trade or complete an associate’s or bachelor degree, Woolf said. Project AIM Hire graduates also will have priority in gaining interviews for open positions at Chrysler.

Manufacturing has changed drastically in the last 30 years, Woolf said, and it takes a new type of worker to keep the industry moving forward.

“It’s mainly robotics that put our automotives together,” he added. “People say robotics take away jobs, but they really don’t because it takes a lot of people to keep those robotics running.”

For more information on how students can participate in Project AIM Hire, contact your school’s guidance office.

Lauren Fitch, education reporter, can be reached at (765) 454-8587, Lauren.Fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.