GFW Inc. set to build on skilled trades workforce program

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. is ready to shine a light on career opportunities in the skilled trades. GFW Inc. has assumed leadership of the Gateway Coalition, an alliance of Allen County educators and businesses committed to developing for young people gateways to skilled-trades careers. Going forward, the group will be known as the MadeByMe Coalition.

“We can’t build a nationally recognized economy without a great workforce—and that includes manufacturers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and others in the skilled trades,” said John Urbahns, president and CEO of GFW Inc. “There’s a huge opportunity for young people interested in the skilled trades. The pay is competitive, the skills are in high demand, and the training gets you into the job market quickly. It’s a great option for students, and we’re excited to bring that message to as many people as possible.”

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), 1 in 5 jobs in Allen County is in either the manufacturing or construction industries. Average annual earnings (wages plus benefits) for manufacturing workers in Allen County is $76,226; for construction workers, $62,369. The DWD also reports 27% of manufacturing workers and 23% of construction workers in Allen County are at or near retirement age. In the next decade, DWD estimates show there will be more than 23,000 production job openings—and more than 10,000 construction job openings—in Allen County. The coalition aims to build interest in the skilled trades among students, and build connections to careers to help fill the potential workforce gap.

The coalition was formed in 2015 by Northeast Indiana Works and the local chapter of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). Since the coalition’s inception, business leaders have spoken to more than 5,000 Allen County high school students to increase awareness about careers in manufacturing and construction. The coalition aligned its work with a regional website, MadeByMe.me, launched by Northeast Indiana Works and devoted to skilled trades career awareness. As part of that alignment, the coalition has thus far conducted three MadeByMe career fairs.

“I’m so proud of the progress the coalition has made over the years, thanks to a group of hard-working volunteers,” said Cathy Waggoner, manager of business development at Design Collaborative, who has served as a key administrator for the coalition for several years. “The coalition is very supportive of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s leadership. We look forward to working together to grow opportunities for young people.”

While the coalition’s name is changing, its mission—and key participants—remain the same. Northeast Indiana Works and IFMA will continue to be part of the coalition, as will the current education and business representatives. Adam Welch, director of economic development at Greater Fort Wayne Inc., will oversee the coalition.

“I’m blown away by the work this coalition has done over the past four years. I’m honored to take on a leadership role, but it will continue as a group effort,” Welch said. “Our goal is to create a situation where everybody wins: young people pursue rewarding careers in the skilled trades, businesses fill their job openings, and our community reaches its full economic potential.”

One of the coalition’s newer initiatives is a paid teacher externship program in which Allen County teachers are paired with local industries and spend up to a week on site, learning about careers in those industries. The teachers are expected to return to their classrooms and incorporate what they’ve learned either into the curriculum or in their general interactions with students and fellow teachers. The externship program kicked off this summer.

“The coalition has come a long way since its start and the leadership of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. will help the coalition reach new heights,” said Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works. “There remains a significant need to promote skilled trades careers, which often can be accessed through short-term education and training and which can provide self- or family-sustaining employment.”

“The collaboration around skilled trades in our community is incredible,” said Jesse Webb, principal at the Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy. “Educators across Allen County are supporting each other, which benefits students and educators alike. Working with local businesses and the MadeByMe Coalition, I can’t wait to see the next steps as we continue to build a pipeline from classroom to career.”

Companies interested in joining the coalition can contact Welch at (260) 420-6945 or awelch@gfwinc.com.

About Northeast Indiana Works

Northeast Indiana Works, the region’s workforce development board, provides public and private financial and employment resources to businesses and individuals for education and skills training to meet the needs of regional industries. The nonprofit sets policy for how public and private funds are utilized to support talent development and serves as a convener and strategic partner in talent development efforts. It also operates and staffs the 11 county-based WorkOne Northeast career centers in the region. Individuals and companies may access resources and services by visiting or calling WorkOne in their county. To find your local WorkOne, log on to www.neinworks.org.

About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana, as its metro chamber alliance and primary point of contact for economic growth. GFW Inc. focuses on prosperity and community vibrancy through economic development, advocacy, programs and resources that support business success, leadership development, graduate retention and community engagement. In 2018, GFW Inc. assisted 33 businesses in expansions or relocations in Allen County, resulting in a total of 2,445 projected new jobs, $115 million in new annual payroll, and more than $336 million in new investment.