GREENFIELD — Local companies and schools are having to get creative to find skilled workers as Hancock County’s unemployment rate falls.
This week, a Chinese car-parts manufacturer announced plans to open its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Greenfield, bringing 441 jobs by 2021.
Though BeijingWest Industries’ development has received only preliminary approval, the company has already announced plans to partner with Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana to train students at the college’s campuses for the work that BeijingWest will do.
And economy experts say such arrangements are becoming increasingly common as Indiana’s jobless rate declines. The efforts start as early as high school — where Hancock County educators are touting opportunities in the local job market — and follow students on to college, when higher education programs emphasize partnerships with local manufacturers with jobs to fill.
Sue Smith, vice president of manufacturing, technology and applied sciences at Ivy Tech, said the college has two missions: to transfer students to four-year universities and prepare students to join the workforce — and partnerships like that with BWI help support the latter.
Since 1983, the college has worked alongside Indiana industries to train students for the jobs industries have available, Smith said. Staff members at the college help determine what skill sets companies need and then develop a curriculum that trains students to meet those needs, she said. Details about what a BeijingWest program will look like and when it will start are still being determined, Smith said, but Ivy Tech is prepared to help the company fill the available positions.
Retta Livengood, director of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce and president of the Greenfield-Central School Board, said she sometimes hears business leaders say they struggle to find qualified candidates to fill job openings, especially with the county’s unemployment rate at just 3.8 percent, lower than the state rate of 4.7.
Several years ago, the chamber and a committee of community stakeholders teamed up to host a career exploration day, loosely based of National Manufacturing Day, which encourages manufacturing companies across the country to open their doors to high school students for a day of job shadowing.
The local event — planned for November — aims to provide high school students a glimpse of the various jobs available to them right here at home, Livengood said.
Organizers want students to be familiar with some of the county’s largest employers — which BWI will soon join — and the type of work they do.
Every day, residents drive past large industries without any idea the number and types of jobs available inside, Livengood said.
“Our intent is to get our kids into these manufacturing facilities or businesses so hopefully they’ll make the decision to … move back here to work in our community and fill these jobs,” she said.
Dagney Faulk, director of research in the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, studies regional economic development issues; she said Hancock County isn’t the only county in the state with a low unemployment rate and growing number of jobs.
As the economy approaches full employment, industries statewide have trouble filling some manufacturing positions, she said.
But workers will likely be willing to commute from other counties for work like that at BWI, which will offer salaries averaging $52,000 plus benefits, she said.
Those jobs will likely attract people from surrounding counties where the jobless rate is higher, she said; data show Marion, Shelby, Madison and Henry counties have lower employment rates than Hancock County.