As manufacturing continues to be the number one employer in Blackford and Jay counties, local economic development officials are committed to partnering with local industries to develop a training and certification program.
With the formation of the Jay-Blackford Manufacturing Alliance (JBMA), local employers were able to collaborate and identify three areas of demand for talent in their organizations: industrial maintenance, automation/robotics and soft skills.
The main goal of the (JBMA) is to improve the local manufacturing pathway system ensuring they are teaching the right skills, at the right time, in the right way. The end result is providing high quality trained employees for local industries.
In Blackford County, manufacturing makes up 36 percent of total private employment, while manufacturing in Jay County makes up 50 percent of private employment.
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.
Last week, members of the Blackford Economic Development Corp were able to see some of the results of that partnership when they toured the John Jay Center for Learning in Portland.
More than a million dollars worth of equipment fill the lower level of the John Jay Center located at 101 S. Meridian in Portland.
A variety of mechanical skills, electricity and fluid power, basic welding and basic machining, industrial control systems and automated systems technician skills are taught to students, most of whom are already employed by a manufacturer, in the program that began in January. Thus far, 36 students are enrolled in the program.
Rusty Inman, director of the John Jay Center for Learning, said students who successfully complete the program can expect to step into high paying jobs in the manufacturing field.
Inman said the equipment purchased for the program were all hand picked by manufacturers to ensure that students were getting the training that would fit the needs of local manufacturers.
According to Colton Bickel, director of the Blackford County Economic Development Corp., Blackford County currently has three companies – 3M, Petosky Plastics and Tru-Form Steel – and three students participating in the program.
“I’ve also toured the program with three other companies, with one begin very interested in the program,” Bickel added.
Bickel agreed that the current structure of the program was for adult education.
“I believe the long-term vision is for high school students to also be able to utilize the facility,” Bickel said. “The graduation requirements are changing, so this program could play a large role in helping students achieve their high school diploma.
“An important aspect to what the Blackford County EDC does is predicated on our partnership with the schools,” he added. “The students are our workforce for tomorrow, so we want to make sure we are preparing them.”
Bickel said Blackford County would “continue to engage and listen to the manufacturers.”
“This program is tailored and designed for them, so as their needs change the program should also change and adapt.”
Inman noted that he expected the program would look completely different in 5-10 years, as manufacturing changes.
Bickel said the Blackford County EDC will continue to participate in Jay-Blackford Manufacturing Council.
“It’s my job to make sure the Blackford County manufacturers are begin heard,” he said. “This allows us to voice the needs of Blackford County and make decisions that will help the individual needs of our employers.”