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By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – “All I hear is that we are in a dire need of a skilled workforce,” Jim Heck said at the Perry County Development Corp. annual meeting Feb. 20.
“I’m in about 12 counties; my workforce board covers nine,” the executive director for WorkOne Southwest told the audience of business and government officials gathered at the Hoosier Heights Country Club. “Every county that I’m in, they talk to me about … need(ing) for a skilled workforce.”
WorkOne is a statewide system that helps employers find workers and provides tools for workers to find jobs.
Heck echoed comments made a few minutes earlier by Alvin Evans, PCDC’s president and chief executive officer, which were reported in Thursday’s edition of the News. The number of high-school students encouraged to go to four-year colleges “continues to increase,” Heck said. “I would never tell anyone not to go to college, but I would encourage them to look at the career and technical-education area so they can get a certificate or an associate degree, go to work, earn money and complete their four-year degree or more while they’re working and earning money.”
He attended an event in Spencer County last year where Rep. Larry Bucshon “had asked us to bring some businesses together to talk about what their needs are,” Heck continued. “Two ladies walked in from WGS and sat down with the congressman and me and (one) said, ‘listen, I need 50 workers tomorrow. How are you going to help me get those workers?’ … We’ve been working with WGS, but that’s just one example of what’s been going on.”
The state’s free job-matching system, Indiana CareerConnect.com, listed more than 300 jobs open in Perry County earlier in the day, Heck said. Positions are available in manufacturing, health care, banking, retail and other areas, and “that doesn’t count the number of private job boards or the companies that are not posting jobs at all.”
“Your search found 474 jobs, representing at least 3,699 positions that matched your search criteria,” was the result when the News tried the site Thursday, entering only the Tell City ZIP code and a 25-mile radius as criteria.
The focus of the dinner meeting was internships, and Heck described their benefits.
“It gives you the opportunity to show off your company to students that may think it’s not that good a place to work,” he said. “We’ve heard from a number of people that think manufacturing, especially, is dirty work that nobody wants to do. That’s not the case. I’ve toured ATTC … they pride themselves on how clean they keep their workplace. It’s good work. It’s a place that most people would be proud to work at.”
Heck addressed the issue of brain drain, a term describing young people moving from an area in search of work, often after finishing college.
Internships can show them that opportunities exist near their homes, he said.
“If you can engage them in a meaningful internship during the summer, you can keep them here. You can show them what kinds of jobs are here, what they can expect,” he said. “They’ll begin to love your company and they’ll want to come back to work here, because statistics usually show that after they’re gone for a number of years, when they start having kids of their own, and they want to start raising them, they think about coming back to your town anyway. But let’s keep them here to start with.”
Interns can help companies perform work they’ve been putting off, Heck added, and “it brings a younger mindset to your business, as well,” perhaps the perspective of the consumers a business hopes to court. “We’ve got to be willing to listen to them and bring their ideas into our workforce. This is a perfect opportunity to do that, with interns.”
Interns can also provide companies opportunities to give younger employees supervisory experience, Heck continued. His organization works with indianaintern.net, which matches interns to companies.
“We’d love to help you set up internships if you’ve not done them before,” he said, noting, “if you don’t make the internships meaningful to these kids, they won’t come back. (They) want meaningful work. They want to make sure that they’re doing something of value.”
He then presented several of the interns attending the meeting who’d agreed to participate in a panel discussion. To launch it, he posed the question, “what meaningful thing happened to you during your internship that made you really like it?”
“At first, I was kind of afraid of the job setting,” Perry Central graduate and University of Evansville freshman Paul Schwartz replied. He expected the environment at Jasper Engines and Transmissions to be serious, but found “most people had a sense of humor.”
Tell City High School student Phillip Jones interned for Perry Circuit Judge Lucy Goffinet.
“I really enjoyed being able to go into court every day and see attorneys argue,” he said. “That’s really what I want to be able to do, is to help protect people, protect their rights and make sure they’re able to have a fair trial.”
One of his most memorable experiences came when he was 17 and worked as a bailiff at a jury trial, he said.
As Jones goes into law school, he’ll know “most future lawyers won’t have that experience,” he said, “so I’ll be able to say, hey, I was a big player in a courtroom. I was able to assist a judge and a jury and all the other attorneys. I really appreciate Judge Lucy and the whole court system of Perry County for letting me be able to do that. It’s an experience that I’ll always remember and that I gained a lot from.”
He added that he felt honored to have been able to have the experience.
“Every day was a different challenge for me,” Ian Reed said of his internship at Waupaca Foundry. “It kept my interest up.”
Perry Central High School’s Logan Richards said performing a variety of tasks, including using torches for welding and cutting at Mulzer Crushed Stone, plus working with the people there, was appealing to him.
Tosha Gowan interned with the Perry County Chamber of Commerce, which helped her learn what the county has to offer. She also enjoyed meeting new people.
“Everybody I met has been wonderful,” she said. “It was just really exciting.”
Andy Connor has been interning at German American Bank for three years and said he learned a lot about banking and its regulations and enjoyed working with company employees and customers. He expects to finish work in March toward an associate’s degree in business management.
“Tell me something that surprised you,” Heck urged all of the interns.
“Going into a courtroom, I think a lot of people would expect something along the lines of Judge Judy,” Jones said, referring to retired New York family-court Judge Judith Sheindlin, who now presides over a daytime-TV courtroom “where justice is dispensed at lightning speed,” according to the show’s website. Goffinet and Magistrate Karen Werner are “nothing like Judge Judy, which is a compliment,” Jones said. “If you go to court, don’t expect to be yelled at.”
Gowan said she didn’t know what chambers of commerce do before her internship, and found “they’re genuinely there to help the businesses succeed.”
Reed said he was surprised to see how much goes into running an operation like Waupaca.
“I never really understood what all went into it,” he said.
The foundry’s Ed Zellers has overseen “scores of interns over a number of years,” he said from the audience.
“We’ve had kids come in and work with us and the technical people we have at the plant,” he said. They would return to school as summer ends, then come back for another internship. A common comment is “I could have taught the classes that I was taking this semester,” Zellers said.
“It really gives meaning to the classroom teaching that they’re getting,” Heck added.
The interns described routes they took into their extracurricular jobs. Advice from guidance counselors helped in several cases. Reed turned a job he’d worked for three summers into an internship. Jones knew he wanted to become an attorney, but found lawyers move around to courthouses in various counties on a daily basis. On a suggestion from a teacher, he looked into going to the local courthouse, where “I could see all aspects of the law, all the court cases and see all of the different lawyers that I wanted.”
The courthouse work allowed him to meet and begin a separate internship with attorney Walter Hagedorn, Jones added.
Schwartz said his internship helped him to mature, which aided his college studies.
Richards is “still trying to figure out what I want to do,” he said, but welding is part of that. “I think I’m going to stick with Mulzer.”
Reed said he didn’t have to worry as he neared completion of his college studies about what he would do next.
“I didn’t have to worry about finding a job,” he said. “I had one … I already knew what I was going to do for my career, and nobody else really had thought that far ahead.”
He serves as a manufacturing engineer on a team working to make operations more efficient throughout the foundry, he explained.
The panel discussion was interrupted by the sound of a weather siren, first announced as a red alert for a thunderstorm then upgraded almost immediately to a tornado warning. Guests were advised about the safest areas of the building.
“The sirens just keep going, so we’re going to get out of here,” Ewing said.