NWI Times: Center works to meet needs of employers and job seekers

February 28, 2019
Article by: Phil Wieland, Times Correspondent

In the workforce world, there are two kinds of people: those who need a job and those with jobs that need to be filled. The Center for Workforce Innovation is there to make sure they get together.

Linda Woloshansky is the president and CEO of the center, which is a non-profit agency formed in 2000. The center’s offices are located in Valparaiso, but it serves employers and jobseekers in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Starke and Pulaski counties. It has an annual budget of about $8.5 million, which it receives under a pair of federal programs and from other sources, including contractual consulting agreements with organizations throughout Indiana and several nearby states.

During the year it will enroll or engage about 10,000 people within the seven counties of Northwest Indiana. Woloshansky described its activities during a recent interview.

“We are somewhat like a multi-management firm in that we have different focuses for individuals and companies. We support the Northwest Indiana Workforce board, and they oversee the state’s WorkOne system here. WorkOne focuses on helping employers find the right workers and train them. On the flip side they work with job seekers and what they need to do in order to be employed.

“We do everything from assess what skills they have to seeing what interest they have in a particular employment. We want to work with people with ‘true grits,’ a genuine interest in being employed and what it takes to make that happen. That can be as much of a challenge as actually working.”

The center helps job seekers do the prep work necessary to find a job, Woloshansky said.

“We help them develop a resume and do mock interviews to see if they are presenting their skills in a way that will make employers want to hire them. For some, it means they will need to establish a work history by taking an entry level job to establish a history so they can get a better job. It doesn’t happen overnight. The individual will need to spend time developing skills or volunteering time so they have a work reference.

“Individuals who need training to succeed in high demand industries in Indiana can get training at no cost to them. Many will go to Ivy Tech and get something in manufacturing or HVAC, health care and nursing, and a whole host of training available for those who are willing to put in the time to be successful. WorkOne looks at whether they need this type of assistance to get employed.”

“We also work with employers to see what jobs they are trying to fill, the skills that are needed and possibly help offset the costs of on-the-job training for the jobs that are available, or help existing workers upgrade their skills. We are developing the supply of workers and working with the demand side to find the right workers.

“Another thing we do is run adult education programs, working with people to get their high school equivalency degree and to connect them with some type of post-secondary education. We believe workforce development is important. Without qualified workers, we won’t attract employers or keep existing ones. We work with the Northwest Indiana Forum and other economic development groups to assess the overall workforce in Northwest Indiana and build strategies to help communities achieve the balance needed for economic development.

“The number one item that always comes up when talking to employers interested in coming to the area is, what is the workforce like and do you have an adequate workforce for us to recruit talented people for jobs? We look at what they really need, and we look at the demographics and see who’s in the workforce. The worst thing we can do is oversell it and tell them we have hundreds of people of a specific type, and they locate here and find out it isn’t true. We have to be truthful.”

The center also runs youth programs, Woloshansky said.

“One is Jobs for America’s Graduates. It’s a program for at-risk youth that is an excellent model for providing people with the right basic skills, work skills and life skills so they can be successful once they leave high school and enter the workforce.

“We do a grassroots initiative called READY Northwest Indiana (Regional Employer and Educational Alliance for Developing Youth). It is a collaboration of 26 school corporations in the seven counties. It is purely voluntary, and we the have post-secondary institutions involved like Purdue Northwest, Indiana University Northwest, Valparaiso University and Calumet College, getting kids ready for careers.

“READY Northwest Indiana focuses on middle school and high school and on into the technical schools, trade schools and colleges. It looks at the challenges kids have developing a career plan and having knowledge of the jobs in Northwest Indiana. They meet monthly, and we are starting to see some of the positive changes. We had a better-than-average high school completion rate and more young people are being prepared for post-secondary education than in other parts of the state. It goes back to the mission of finding workforce solutions.”

Newer initiatives include an ethics program and organizing employers by sector, Woloshansky said.

“We started a work ethics certificate program two years ago, and last year the governor’s office came up with a version of it for high school seniors. It deals with things like getting to work on time, following directions, getting along with co-workers and showing initiative. The program was created from a survey of over 100 employers, asking them what they want in an employee.

“We turned it into a poster first, and then a more advanced initiative to get the certificate. Some of the schools offer classes and others will look at the student’s performance through the eyes of four people — three teachers and an outside person — who observe them and document whether they are achieving these attributes and determine if they are eligible for the certificate.

“We do employer sector work as well. What that means is we bring together employers in a sector to see what their common needs are and help them determine what are their common solutions. It is a powerful and effective way for helping find solutions faster and oftentimes better. We have a healthcare network of employers and a manufacturing network. Last year we started a partnership of manufacturing employers along with schools and community leaders called the LaPorte County Innovative Network, which resulted in a plan to improve the flow of candidates for manufacturing jobs.

“We really start by taking a look at what the issues are in a community and look at what is the best overall solution. I love what I do and I feel I’m helping change people’s lives. It’s a good feeling.”

For more information on programs available through the Center for Workforce Innovation, go to www.innovativeworkforce.com, or for information on the state’s WorkOne program, go to www.gotoworkonenw.com.

 © 2019, The Northwest Indiana Times
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