Pre-Manufacturing Academy Creates Path to Jobs in Steuben County | Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana

Class sizes at the Pre-Manufacturing Academy at Easterseals RISE may be small, but the goal is not. These classes could become a path to jobs in manufacturing for people with disabilities.

Ten people are in the first round of the program, which began in April.

The Pre-Manufacturing Academy includes a lot to learn about safety, electricity and more, through a program developed by the Impact Institute, a vocational education cooperative based in Kendallville. People who master the material could graduate to the Manufacturing Academy.

“We want folks to see there are alternatives for careers,” said Crystal Church-Stavitzke, executive director of Easterseals RISE.

She said the Pre-Manufacturing Academy can become “a steppingstone for people who need more hands-on instruction.”

For prospective employers, it’s much more than that. The Pre-Manufacturing and Manufacturing academies can screen students not just for the skills they learn, but also for some of the more general traits that make good employees: punctuality, persistence and the ability to follow instructions.

Cultivating manufacturing skills is vitally important in Steuben County, where more than a quarter of the county’s jobs are in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Employment has rebounded in the year since the pandemic shutdown began; in fact, the demand for workers recovered so quickly that many employers are having trouble filling open jobs now. The unemployment rate in Steuben County was 3.7 percent in March, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported.

Early on, the focus has been on lectures, assessments and written material to study, but equipment for hands-on learning will be added later in the course: Three sets of equipment have been ordered:

  • A professional-grade set of measurement tools, which students will use in learning to make the kind of precise, accurate measurements necessary in manufacturing. The set includes tools such as micrometers, dial calipers and dial indicators.
  • An electric-relay board that students can use to learn to set up and operate controls for electrical equipment.
  • A manufacturing “Skill Boss” that students can use to demonstrate the kinds of skills they would need as machine operators in manufacturing. This unit is no larger than a tabletop, but can test students’ ability to perform safety, maintenance and production tasks.

Easterseals RISE and the Steuben County Economic Development Corp. are offering the classes in a partnership.

“We have a lot of able, willing people who just want to work,” Church-Stavitzke said.