Northwest Indiana is one of the most densely industrial areas in the United States, with manufacturing jobs across many fields being both widely available and often quite lucrative. Companies around the Region depend on a steady pipeline of new workers to fill those lucrative roles and stay productive. On Thursday, October 27, the Portage Economic Development Corporation (EDC) took a big step to prime that pipeline and equip Portage students for future success with its annual Manufacturing 360 event.
The event saw over 60 hand-selected Portage High School students, identified by guidance counselors and teachers as potentially interested in manufacturing careers, get up-close and personal with jobs in manufacturing. Over the course of the day, students toured Cleveland-Cliffs’ Burns Harbor steelmaking facility and visited Ivy Tech Community College of Valparaiso’s campus to explore their educational offerings in architecture, welding, HVAC, machining, and even computer-aided design.
“This is giving these students exposure to the jobs that are available out there right here in the community,” said Andy Maletta, executive director of the Portage EDC. “It allows them to see where there might be a future for them and get hands on with what’s available. The kids are always enthusiastic; they really get a kick out of seeing things made. Today, we went into a steel mill. A lot of people never get to do that, and we take it for granted that it’s right here in our backyard.”
Portage High School places a strong emphasis on preparing students for future careers, including ones that might not involve a traditional four-year university education. Melissa Deavers-Lowie, director of communications and community engagement at Portage Township Schools, explained their approach and the critical role Manufacturing 360 plays.
“There’s a wide variety of jobs here in Northwest Indiana, and many that meet our students' unique interests,” she said. “We offer many classes here at Portage High School that prepare kids for careers in different manufacturing fields and that offer hands-on training. Manufacturing 360 gets them out in the community and shows them the next steps, things they can get right here in Northwest Indiana.”
Many of those jobs, while not requiring full degrees, do require particular certifications or completed courses - ones on offer at Ivy Tech Community College of Valparaiso. Students split into groups and took tours of the campus led by the school’s trade instructors, seeing the school’s facilities and learning more about how they can leverage a fast and affordable education into a successful career.
“I think it’s important for these students to see that a college right in their backyard offers credentials in these areas for a really affordable rate,” said Megan Hughes, assistant director of admissions at Ivy Tech Community College of Valparaiso. “A lot of these areas they’re seeing are actually covered by Next Level Jobs Indiana, so they could get their credentials for free with a year of school. Coming here to see what that’s all about, and how they could see themselves in these manufacturing roles at a possibly free rate is so valuable.”
Maletta said that, in many ways, Manufacturing 360 is the perfect showcase of the Portage EDC’s mission, thanks to partners such as Cleveland-Cliffs, Portage Township Schools, and Ivy Tech working together to make the day possible.
“We’re all about building partnerships, whether that’s banks, hospitals, manufacturers, or service organizations,” he said. “Working closely with Portage Township Schools, Ivy Tech, and Cleveland-Cliffs who is a new partner for us this year. That’s what we do, we bring people together.”
For more information on the Portage Economic Development Corporation, visit portagein.org.