MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. – Collaborators on the Michigan City High School’s Compressed Air Academy connected at a recent open house event to tour the space, see how students are embracing the program and seek out ways to keep the synergy moving forward.
The Economic Development Corporation Michigan City team, representatives from the compressor/vacuum industry, high school and college leadership and teachers Ralph Gee and Jeff Rochowiak are among the key partners who are behind the program to not only boost the workforce but also keep these skilled workers in LaPorte County.
“The academy was established with focused curriculum to ensure that we are preparing students for the industry and that it’s aligned directly with what the workforce needs are right here in Michigan City,” said Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, superintendent at Michigan City Area Schools. “With the pilot program during the 2018-19 school year, we had 45 students enrolled. Then enrollment took a hit during Covid. We are here to hit the reset button, and we are excited about our new partnerships, initiatives and opportunities.”
The one- or two-year program seeks to prepare students to work at such partner companies as Sullair, Boss Industries, Dekker Vacuum Technologies, Sullivan-Palatek and Vanair. The students work with an industry-grade air compressor and vacuum system, 3D printers, industrial robotic components, CAD software and construction equipment. Ivy Tech Community College offers up to 6 dual credits in Advanced Manufacturing for program completion.
“The students are making boxes and learning how to use joiners, planers, nail guns – all of the little tools that they need. We are now teaching them the basics,” Rochowiak said.
“We have students working on resumes and understanding how they are a living document that needs to be updated once in a while,” Gee added.
Rochowiak said the momentum will be ignited by putting career and job fairs into place, student tours of area companies, rebooting the work study program, internships and after-school employment opportunities. Overall, the school’s tech-ed classes have 150 to 200 students enrolled.
“We recently went to Vanair and students asked tons of questions. They can see how every company is unique,” Rochowiak said. “We would love guest speakers. The students want to hear your stories and how you got to be where you are today – that means a lot to these students.”
The first-of-its-kind program is centered in a community that is No. 1 for the air compressor industry in Indiana and the Midwest, said EDCMC Executive Director Clarence Hulse.
“For me the idea was to create a workforce pipeline. We were ahead of the curve to get that done in 2017. We had the idea and it germinated and is growing,” Hulse said. “It’s about relationships and getting involved. We need to make sure people here are successful, are getting trained, and going straight into jobs. What’s better than local people coming out of local schools and remaining a part of our community?
“We have good paying jobs at great companies that want to stay here, expand and create new products. My challenge today is for companies to appoint liaisons, so we all have the vital resources that we need – the workers.”
“It’s about relationships, mentoring and engaging with our students – all for the betterment of our community,” Eason-Watkins added.
The Michigan City High School Compressed Air Academy is a one- or two-year program to prepare students for entry-level positions within the compressor/vacuum industry. Launched in the 2018-19 school year with a pilot program, the curriculum was developed with educators and industry team leaders. The CAA has received the state’s Earn and Learn Certification in 2020, and in 2021, Sullair hired the first graduates and rising seniors as summer assemblers. For more information, visit www.mcas.k12.in.us/compressedair.