Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS) and the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City (EDCMC) are collaborating to create educational partnerships that prepare students for careers through hands-on training and mentorship.
This collaboration formed after Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, Superintendent of MCAS, first started working at the school district. She did a listening tour of the community, speaking with parents and organizations’ business leaders. She heard a common theme from many of them.
“One thing that was clear was they felt that some of our programs we offered and the skillsets our students had upon graduation simply weren’t meeting their workforce needs,” she said. “That made it critical for us to form a strong working relationship with our local businesses, and the EDCMC was critical to that. They were able to look across sectors and help us find where to focus our attention.”
Eason-Watkins was invited to join the EDCMC’s Board of Directors, and they helped solidify the business connections MCAS needed to create their most innovative partnership – the Compressed Air Academy at Michigan City High School. The air compressor and vacuum systems industry is one of the most vibrant in the Region, and Eason-Watkins worked directly with its leaders to create a one-of-a-kind educational experience.
“I had a chance to meet with all of their CEOs, and they gave me tours of their facilities and highlighted the work they do,” she said. “It was really impressed upon me that this is a core industry here in La Porte County. We need to ensure our students are aware of this industry, and prepared to pursue future career opportunities within it.”
Compressed air industry leaders such as Sullair, BOSS Industries, and Dekker Technologies are all partners in the program. With their help, it prepares students for high-demand jobs in the air compressor and vacuum industries by giving them the chance to work with industry-grade air compressors, up-to-date training materials from the businesses themselves, and direct guidance from experts in the field.
“The students have an opportunity to learn how to operate these machines to the same standard they would if they were employees at these companies,” she said. “But this is not just a situation where we expect partners simply to donate equipment or information. We felt it was critical that these companies really build a relationship with our students.”
One of the most exciting things about the academy to Eason-Watkins is that it is that a diverse range of students find value in it.
“We took a group of students on a tour of Sullair, and some were studying engineering, others marketing or planning to earn credits in a technical field at Ivy Tech,” she said. “All of them wanted to understand the opportunities that existed in the industry. A company like Sullair that handles advanced manufacturing needs many roles filled.”
EDCMC Executive Director Clarence Hulse stated,” This is a best practice combining both arenas, economic development and workforce development and the future of talent development for the business community. These type of innovative partnerships are being key business growth and success and key to building the workforce pipeline.”
Some of the students on that tour earned internships in marketing and communications thanks in part to their experiences at the academy.
“Those roles are also key components to a business,” Eason-Watkins said. “They do a lot of the work that makes a company successful.”
The Compressed Air Academy was well received by students and businesses alike, so Eason-Watkins sees it as win-win for all involved.
“One of our proudest moments was thanks to one of our engineering students, who also happens to take Japanese language classes at our high school,” she said. “Sullair's CEO is Japanese, and he was present at our grand opening. He and our student spent some time together at the event, talking to each other in Japanese. We’re always looking for opportunities to provide our students with these kinds of experiences.”