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A Collaborative Approach Ensures a Skilled Workforce in East Central Indiana

East Central Indiana region is proactively working to secure its future talent base.

By Teree Caruthers on June 17, 2022

Ball State University
Samantha Blankenship

Faced with a population decline, the nine-county East Central Indiana region is proactively working to reverse this trend and shore up its future talent base by both luring professionals to the region and training and retaining the current workforce.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, stakeholders from across East Central Indiana worked together to pursue the Indiana’s 21st Century Talent Region designation with the goals of:

  • Boosting the population by 11% by 2030
  • Increasing the median household income and earnings of residents by 7.5% by 2025
  • Increasing the region’s educational attainment percentage by 2025

In 2021, the group launched the East Central Indiana Talent Collaborative (ECITC) to work toward achieving those goals.

The Right Address

Part of the effort includes Forge Your Path, an outward-facing marketing strategy that helps to change the perception of what it means to live in rural Indiana, so they see that they can forge their path locally to a great job, great quality of life, great schools and in an affordable location, says Lauralee Hites, principal owner and senior organization consultant for Stratavize Consulting, the organization tapped to act as a facilitator, connecting stakeholders and forging relationships across the region.

Hites says achieving the second and third goals — to help residents increase educational attainment levels so that it will raise their median income — will require introducing students at an early age to local career pathways, helping them train for those jobs and then connecting them to opportunities within their communities.

“What tends to happen is high schoolers are encouraged to pursue education and go to college, but then they leave and never return,” she says. “The goal is to build a boomerang so that even if they leave, they feel that they can come back. That means connecting them to internships that are local so they’re building relationships with employers. That means leveraging the higher ed institutions we have here locally, so that students understand they can get a quality education right here.”

Community Connections

One of those higher education stakeholders is Ball State University in Muncie. The university’s Office of Community Engagement serves as the administrative backbone for the ECITC, providing consultant support and resources to help county coalitions identify members and group structure, select chairs, establish goals and strategies, choose metrics and develop action plans.

“East Central Indiana possesses a rich ecosystem of individuals, organizations and other assets to support talent attraction, development and connection. Knowledge of and connections between these rich resources are often limited; it takes time and a particular vantage point to be able to connect the dots,” says Delaina Boyd, associate vice president for Community Engagement in Ball State University’s Office of Community Engagement.

The region’s goals for talent development and connection will be accomplished by creating or strengthening county collaborations, regional cradle-to-career development coalitions and regional industry networks in the areas such as health care, education, technology, trades and advanced manufacturing, she says.

“Ball State’s new associate director of regional initiatives, for instance, will help support the creation of and participation in programs such as career fairs, apprenticeship programs and summer youth employment initiatives,” Boyd says.

The New Castle-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, for example, has organized a career fair for area high school juniors and seniors. In Wayne County, the Wayne County Employability Coalition has developed a local career pathways awareness campaign called Possibilities aimed at residents of all ages.

“East Central Indiana possesses a rich ecosystem of individuals, organizations and other assets to support talent attraction, development and connection.”

Delaina Boyd| Ball State

From Cradle to Career

ECITC is a “cradle-to-career initiative,” says Boyd, with four regional coalitions focused on talent development strategies throughout the lifetime of residents. The Birth to Five Coalition is concentrated on early childhood development. The K-8 Coalition explores the creation of a curriculum that introduces students to the value of work and career pathways.

The High School Coalition creates resources and tools for connecting students and employers, while the Adult and Higher Education Coalition considers the needs of traditional and nontraditional students and employees looking for additional skills and credentials.

“Low education attainment levels are tied to a number of outcomes such as higher levels of poverty and unemployment and lower health outcomes, including shorter life expectancy,” Boyd says. “While our challenges are significant, stakeholders in the ECITC are working together across counties and sectors to create and implement strategies to develop talent and increase education attainment in our region.”

Learn more about career opportunities in the region at forgeeci.com/ECITC.

Getting to Work

Mike Row serves as the president and CEO of Eastern Indiana Works, a nonprofit organization that serves as the Regional Workforce Development Board in Economic Growth Region 6.

We sat down with Row to get his insights on his organization’s role within the East Central Indiana Talent Collaborative and what he envisions for the future of the region’s workforce development efforts.

What is the role of Eastern Indiana Works within the ECI Talent Collaborative?

Though often overlooked, Regional Workforce Development Boards provide the most effective, pertinent and cost-effective talent/workforce solutions for individuals and employers in the ultra-competitive, ever changing global economy.

With decades of successful multisector expertise, the Eastern Indiana Works Board of Directors truly provides the maximum regional bandwidth for all things talent/ workforce, which adds unique value to the East Central Indiana Talent Collaborative.

How can Eastern Indiana Works help achieve the goals of the ECI Talent Collaborative?

There are many ways: by ensuring the accuracy of the ECITC objectives through our participation in candid, transparent, respectful, productive discussions; contributing to the enhancement of the messaging regarding the sense of urgency and importance of our shared mission; and creating greater economies of scale and lower costs through the Eastern Indiana Works talent/ workforce bandwidth.

What are some programs that help shore up the talent base already present in the region?

There’s a plethora of initiatives that Eastern Indiana Works either leads or is privileged to serve alongside outstanding partner organizations. These initiatives reach all ages of our regional population and are designed to provide people with an opportunity to flourish personally and professionally.

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