Greater Fort Wayne Inc. set to boost youth trade-career program

John Urbahns. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)

Seeking to promote career opportunities in the skilled trades, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has assumed leadership of the Gateway Coalition, an alliance of Allen County educators and businesses committed to developing gateways to skilled-trades careers for young people.

Going forward, the group will be known as the MadeByMe Coalition.

“We can’t build a nationally recognized economy without a great workforce–and that includes manufacturers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and others in the skilled trades,” John Urbahns, president and CEO of GFW Inc., said in a statement. “There’s a huge opportunity for young people interested in the skilled trades. The pay is competitive, the skills are in high demand, and the training gets you into the job market quickly. It’s a great option for students, and we’re excited to bring that message to as many people as possible.”

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), one in five jobs in Allen County is in either the manufacturing or construction industries. Average annual earnings (plus benefits) for manufacturing workers in Allen County is $76,226; for construction workers, $62,369. The DWD also reports 27 percent of manufacturing workers and 23% of construction workers in Allen County are at or near retirement age. In the next decade, DWD estimates show there will be more than 23,000 production job openings–and more than 10,000 construction job openings–in Allen County. The coalition aims to build interest in the skilled trades among students, and build connections to careers to help fill the potential workforce gap.

The coalition was formed in 2015 by Northeast Indiana Works and the local chapter of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). Since the coalition’s inception, business leaders have spoken to more than 5,000 Allen County high school students to increase awareness about careers in manufacturing and construction. The coalition aligned its work with a regional website, MadeByMe.me, launched by Northeast Indiana Works and devoted to skilled trades career awareness. As part of that alignment, the coalition has thus far conducted three MadeByMe career fairs.

While the coalition’s name is changing, its mission–and key participants–remain the same. Northeast Indiana Works and IFMA will continue to be part of the coalition, as will the current education and business representatives. Adam Welch, director of economic development at Greater Fort Wayne Inc., will oversee the coalition.

One of the coalition’s newer initiatives is a paid teacher externship program in which Allen County teachers are paired with local industries and spend up to a week on site, learning about careers in those industries. The teachers are expected to return to their classrooms and incorporate what they’ve learned either into the curriculum or in their general interactions with students and fellow teachers. The externship program kicked off this summer.

“The collaboration around skilled trades in our community is incredible,” stated Jesse Webb, principal at the Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy. “Educators across Allen County are supporting each other, which benefits students and educators alike. Working with local businesses and the MadeByMe Coalition, I can’t wait to see the next steps as we continue to build a pipeline from classroom to career.”

Northeast Indiana Works, the region’s workforce development board, provides public and private financial and employment resources to businesses and individuals for education and skills training to meet the needs of regional industries. GFW Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana, as its metro chamber alliance and primary point of contact for economic growth.

To learn more, visit gfwinc.com.

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