Lilly Endowment Awards $6M to Conexus Indiana for Workforce Programs

According to Conexus, Indiana is the most manufacturing-intensive state per capita in the nation, yet the emergence of new technologies continues to bring significant change to the industry. To help prepare young people for these shifts, Conexus, the state’s initiative to bolster advanced manufacturing and logistics, oversees educational and outreach programs supporting workforce development.

Last week, Conexus announced that the Lilly Endowment has awarded it a three-year, $6 million grant to increase the number of pupils, businesses, and schools that participate in programming aimed at high school students. The grant will also go toward the continued development of post-secondary programs focused on equipping students with the specialized skills that are in demand within industries such as automotive and aerospace.

“Conexus as an organization is focused on growing and promoting advanced manufacturing and logistics,” says Claudia Cummings, Conexus’ vice president of workforce and education. “The Lilly Endowment is supporting Conexus to ensure Indiana stays on top of the manufacturing food chain.”

Cummings says the top concern among industry leaders is workforce development, and the biggest need is “middle-skill workers,” or those with an associate’s degree or industry credentials. With more than 11,000 middle-skill jobs in Indiana to fill each year, Conexus says its talent development programs are designed to bridge the middle-skills gap

“The need [for middle-skills workers] is foreign to us as an educational system,” Cummings explains. “You think you need a four-year degree to be successful, but you earn more with a middle-skill STEM degree than you do with most four-year degrees.”

Conexus manages several talent development programs—including Hire Tech, Conexus A+ Partners, Conexus Interns, Conexus On-Campus—and works with industry partners to create a curriculum that trains students in the skills that Indiana’s workforce is currently lacking.

Hire Tech, Cummings says, is an example of an industry-driven curriculum. Conexus provides “free, robust online training” to students as well as everything teachers need to implement a hands-on class projects. Advanced manufacturing and logistics companies are paired with each Hire Tech classroom, giving them the opportunity to get a first look at potential hires. Hire Tech students also earn 15 college credits and five professional credentials as part of the program. More than 5,000 students have enrolled in Hire Tech since its launch in 2012, and nearly 4,000 industry-recognized credentials have been awarded, Cummings says.

“This is serious training, not shop class,” Cummings emphasizes. “It’s kind of the adopt-a-school model for our industry partners. It helps them recruit for jobs.”

The various programs are offered at over 100 locations across Indiana—Ivy Tech is Conexus’ statewide community college partner—and have served thousands of students. Cummings says the new funding will allow Conexus to enroll up to 7,200 more students and offer the Hire Tech curriculum at 220 schools over the next three years. Conexus also plans to add 50 new industry partners in that time, she says.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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