Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc., introduced a new Regional Council, and a series of education, workforce and quality of life initiatives at its first Annual Report to the Region held on April 26 in French Lick, IN.
The event was an opportunity to present key insights from the Occupational Needs Assessment (ONA) conducted by ROI in Southwest Central Indiana’s three key industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and national security and defense. The needs assessment is critical to ROI’s ability to develop targeted strategies to align education and workforce to respond to needs and opportunities in Southwest Central Indiana’s 11-county region.
The Occupational Needs Assessment is the result of a 6-month examination of data collected from two sources: a quantitative analysis of workforce and industry data and a qualitative analysis of information obtained from interviews with 60 employers in Southwest Central Indiana (SWCI). “We emerged from this effort with a much better understanding of the realities of the workforce in our region,” said Interim CEO Tina Peterson. “The Occupational Needs Assessment was essential to the development of a series of new ROI initiatives and we will continue to use it to ensure that the work we do moving forward is relevant to our region and cultivates the skilled workforce needed SWCI to flourish. It is our hope that the ONA will also be used by many others in the region to tailor initiatives to specifically meet the needs of students, families, educators and employers who call SWCI home.”
To assist in the development of regional strategies and to further respond to opportunities across the region, Peterson announced the formation of a Regional Council. Regional Council members will be liaisons between their home counties and broader regional initiatives. They are respected community leaders that will serve as regional connectors, collaborators, advisors, and facilitators.
“For Southwest Central Indiana to fulfill its potential, stakeholders across the region must strategically and purposefully pursue a shared vision of success,” added Peterson. “We are grateful to this group for stepping forward to serve our communities to ensure we are prepared to achieve, advance and excel together as a region.”
Peterson explained that ROI’s first series of initiatives are consistent with the Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in Southwest Central Indiana, which in 2014 defined key strategies and action steps essential to success in the region. ROI was formed to address some of the strategies in the plan, including advancing a sense of regionalism and quality of place; focusing efforts around key industry sectors that differentiate SWCI; and developing education and workforce initiatives through a demand-driven and region-specific approach of career immersion.
“The initiatives we have launched to date and others launching later this year address significant economic, workforce and community needs we face in our region today while also preparing future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow,” added Peterson. “Backed by data and an incredibly collaborative approach among partners in our region, we think this series of initiatives is just a first step towards greater alignment among our schools, our sectors employers, and our communities.”
ROI’s series of 2016 and 2017 initiatives include:
Ready Schools Initiative
ROI will fund and assist three cohorts of school districts over the next three years to engage in year-long development processes to better align district curricular and programmatic offerings with the education and workforce needs of their communities. Cohort districts will receive a development grant of up to $150,000 to employ a District Readiness Coordinator to oversee activities and will be eligible to apply for implementation funding following the 9-month development process. Applications for the 2017-18 school year are due by May 26, 2017, and are available online at https://swcindiana.org/ready-schools.
Career Pathways Initiative
ROI is convening a 3-day symposium to bring together education and industry in developing common understandings and articulation of three pathways in key SWCI sectors. The symposium will employ a design thinking process and focus on pathways in defense, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing. Stakeholders from K-12 education, higher education, industry, and the community will be invited to attend and engage in the process. More information will be available in late May.
In summer 2017, ROI will convene adult education organizations and relevant stakeholders in SWCI to gain a better understanding of the needs and gaps. The goal of this convening will be to better coordinate efforts between and across organizations in aligning adult education with workforce needs.
Graduation and Career Coaches
In partnership with Ivy Tech Community College, the ROI Graduation and Career Coaches pilot initiative was implemented for the 2016-2017 school year in 11 school districts in Southwest Central Indiana. Working closely with school administrators and counseling teams, graduation and career coaches support 50-60 students per school who are most at risk for not attaining high school diplomas. The Graduation and Career Coaches program is aimed at improving graduation rates and preparing students for pathways into technical certifications, associate degrees, and other post-secondary degree programs.
ROI is launching an elementary STEM Fellows Initiative. Teachers nominated by their principals, and subsequently enrolled into this initiative will engage in professional development centered on topics relevant to STEM fields and become STEM resources for their colleagues. Upon completing this program, STEM fellows will have increased competency in teaching STEM, be prepared to serve as STEM resources to colleagues, be an active part of a regional network of Fellows, and work with the community to increase relevancy in STEM. The first cohort of educators will convene in the 2017-18 school year. Nominations were due from principals by May 10, 2017.
Advancing Out-of-School STEM Learning Grant
The Advancing Out-of-School STEM Learning Grant will provide $25,000 to SWCI Community Foundations to support exceptional STEM programming or develop new programs that offer young people the opportunity for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and math at the elementary, middle, or high school levels. This could include coding, designing, robotics, STEM camps, makerspaces, hacking, or STEM internships, for example. Community Foundations will work with community partners to identify gaps and opportunities in their counties and design granting opportunities in response.
ROI is creating a cybersecurity challenge to engage high school students in the 11-county SWCI region. The event will take place in the Spring of 2018 and will include regional partners such as Indiana University and Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane. ROI is currently exploring cybersecurity challenge models from around the country with a goal of increasing opportunities for students in cybersecurity and cyber infrastructure.
Educator Boot Camp
For a week in June, teachers, counselors, and school leaders are participating in an Educator Boot Camp designed to increase educator awareness of the types of skills and knowledge needed for jobs available regionally and to enable them to provide more relevant curriculum and guidance to their students. A wide variety of industry partners are participating and will host educators from across the region. Enrollment is currently closed for this Boot Camp.
Skill UP! Work and Learn Internship Program
Skill UP! places IT focused students with regional employers in a 3/2 work and learn model in which students attend class three days a week and work two days a week with an industry partner. Students receive a scholarship for coursework leading to an IT certification, soft skills training, and receive $12/hour in this 14-week experience. Industry partners sign a non-binding Intent to Hire for each intern. ROI is currently interviewing applicants for the Skill UP! program and matching them with potential industry partners for the fall semester.
ROI is creating a network of speakers available to visit schools in SWCI. Typical presentations will be 20-30 minutes during which speakers can discuss their company, job responsibilities, skills and abilities necessary for their position, and how they chose their career path. All speakers will be vetted by ROI, including an interview and a standard background check. ROI will maintain a list of interested schools and school contacts so that speakers can be easily matched with schools. Interested speakers and educators can sign up at https://swcindiana.org/speaker/.
Interstate 69 Interchange Analysis
ROI is working with HWC Engineering to conduct an analysis of the I-69 interchanges in the Southwest Central Indiana region. HWC will engage with regional stakeholders and analyze the existing conditions at each interchange in Daviess, Greene, and Monroe Counties. HWC has been hired to help the region establish a cohesive vision and set of goals for the system of interchanges along the I-69 Corridor in our region, an outline of the opportunities/constraints to development at each interchange, and a work plan to identify key strategies necessary to implement plan recommendations. Stakeholders from across the region are participating in this work. A final report will be presented to the region in early summer.
Competitive Positioning—Regional Branding
ROI issued an RFP to five organizations selected for their capacity to help regions like SWCI to identify their competitive position and define their story. An organization will be selected in mid-June and begin working with stakeholders across the region to define a story that will help attract workforce, employers, and investment to SWCI.
Quality of Place – Growth, Retention and Attraction
Grants from the Regional Opportunity Fund will serve as a source of support for strategic planning and investment in quality-of-place development that has the potential to benefit the entire region. In particular, the intent of these grants is workforce-oriented with a focus on quality of place as it impacts the region’s ability to grow, attract, and retain a workforce. Grant parameters and procedures will be announced in early summer.
“In its first year, ROI has already done a tremendous amount of work towards mobilizing regional industry,” said Matt Weinzapfel, Vice Present of Engine Manufacturing at Jasper Engines and Transmission and President of the ROI Board of Directors. “ROI’s first series of initiatives will help to further cement relationships and allow us to collaborate effectively on workforce initiatives and sector strategies that will benefit employers, employees and communities throughout our region.”
“Southwest Central Indiana has so much to offer and I’m thrilled to see such strong collaboration beginning to take shape across the 11-county region,” said Becky Skillman, ROI board member and former Lieutenant Governor of the State of Indiana (2005-2013). “ROI’s first Annual Report to the Region welcomed hundreds of community and economic leaders, industry representatives, K-12 and higher education, and nonprofit entities. The overwhelming turnout is evidence of the significant willingness to act and think as a region, which will be so important to Southwest Central Indiana’s long-term prosperity.”