A big struggle for manufacturers in Indiana is finding enough workers with the skills to fill available jobs.
Catapult Indiana, a free four-week training course launched by Conexus Indiana, is working to fill the void and address employer concerns about workforce retention and the costs associated with hiring new employees.
The course was developed following the successes associated with the Rapid Reemployment for Advanced Manufacturing Positions program created in 2015 by a group of Lafayette industry leaders. Conexus, which supports the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, launched its version of RAMP in 2019. Catapult is the next generation of this program.
“When we first created RAMP, it was out of sheer necessity,” said Brad Rhorer, Director of Talent Programs for Conexus Indiana. “With Catapult, when we started developing the program, we looked at core skills – critical thinking, teamwork and standardized process, for example. These are core skills that are transferable across all organizations, regardless of what is made or moved.”
Catapult, which pays a stipend to students during the course, is currently available in Indianapolis, Anderson, Branchville, Greensburg, Jasper, Lafayette, Wabash, and Frankfort. Over 4,000 students have been trained by Catapult and RAMP combined. The completion rate is around 70% and around 95% of graduates have found work. The average hourly wage for these jobs is $18.
Teresa Wade, owner of CFA Staffing Inc., said her company has helped place Catapult graduates into jobs at Caterpillar, Subaru and elsewhere.
“This program helps Hoosiers who need extra support and a second chance,” Wade said. “It’s near and dear to my heart.”
Offered through partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College, the University of Vincennes, community centers, and even a prison, the course combines 80 hours of classroom instruction and 80 hours of hands-on training.
Catapult is aimed at entry-level skills that could lead to job opportunities along assembly lines, supply chains and in machine operation, for example.
“In a morning session, we can talk to students about why it’s important to follow a standardized process, and then later take them somewhere where they can actually run a process at a station. Quality, safety and productivity are all measured,” Rhorer said. “That’s when students begin to realize that the faster they can accurately produce a given amount of something, the more money they can make for themselves.”
Catapult instructors also focus on teaching fundamental skills and helping program participants understand how they fit into a given organization.
The program is for unemployed and underemployed adults as well as high school graduate students statewide. It has also been made available to qualified inmates at the Indiana Department of Corrections’ Branchville Correctional Facility since the previous version began in 2019.
During his 2018 State of the State address, Governor Eric Holcomb expressed his priority interest in training IDOC offenders for high-paying, high-demand jobs.
“That’s one of the things I was brought here to answer,” said Sherm Johnson, executive director of Offender Employment Development with IDOC. “We started with welding and metalworking certifications, but needed to add something else that was more fundamental.
“Since my days at Ivy Tech, I had worked with Conexus, so we started talking about Catapult and saw a real opportunity there.
Branchville has screening procedures for those who wish to participate in the program and, according to Johnson, the process begins with each person’s case manager.
“Selection is based on how well this facility understands what a candidate is trying to accomplish,” he said. “They must be an Indiana resident with at least a GED. If they have a college degree, it is important to understand whether or not they have an existing skill. The number of essays [for infractions] they have is also a variable.
“What is most important is that the institution uses all the criteria and ultimately puts its stamp of approval on those who are admitted,” he added. “The folks in Branchville did a terrific job with that.”
Johnson said 153 inmates have enrolled in the class so far and 97% have graduated.
Besides the potential for placement after prisoners have served their sentence, completing Catapult Indiana also provides six course credits to Ivy Tech, “so that a person who completes the course can enroll them in school if they want to and save a lot of money,” Johnson said.
“Catapult Indiana helps put inmates on a career path. It can have a positive impact on their lives and help them become contributing members of society.
Some African refugees and immigrants drawn to Indiana by its abundant warehouse work that typically requires minimal English language proficiency have seen the benefits of the advanced manufacturing skills and knowledge provided by Catapult Indiana.
Born and raised in Africa himself, PathWays Together President and CEO David Bates recently helped 21 African men and women enroll in Catapult Indiana through Ivy Tech.
Bates founded PathWays Together last June to address the challenges that many resettled Africans face in Indianapolis regarding language barriers, employment, housing and transportation.
“Working in warehouses has been great for these people, but warehouse season has its ups and downs, and when things go down sometimes people get laid off,” Bates said.
“Some of our employees will leave third-shift warehouse jobs and then go straight to Catapult class without sleeping,” he said. “They are committed and hard-working people. They have a tremendous sense of honor and a real drive to succeed.
Yoriel Colon, a 28-year-old recent Catapult graduate, pursued the advanced training opportunity in hopes of eventually securing a manufacturing supervisory role. With a background in customer service, he recognized the importance of bolstering his existing knowledge base.
“I probably won’t find myself in a position where I use a drill, but I know it’s important to understand this kind of work and believe me it’s not as easy as you think” , did he declare. “The class is tough, but it’s not crazy tough. A lot of what they teach is common sense and principles you already use in life that you probably didn’t know were a part of. of manufacturing.
Catapult Indiana students have the opportunity to interview for employment once they complete their training.
“I’m encouraged to apply for post-class vacancies, and while I’m not targeting machine operation, I know I can’t just jump into a supervisory role,” Colon said. “I have to learn the whole process from the ground up and build towards what I want. Catapult Indiana gave me that opportunity.”•