JASPER, Ind. -Students seeking to graduate from college debt-free and find a promising career received a major boost Wednesday, thanks to a new partnership announced between the Vincennes University Jasper Campus and seven Jasper companies.

Building on VUJC’s existing associate degree program in Career Tech Manufacturing, local companies will begin this summer to employ students part-time while they are enrolled at VUJC full-time. Companies will also be involved in recruiting students for the program.

“This is an important partnership because of the enthusiastic participation by the companies. The students will not only be learning in the labs and classrooms on campus, but they will have complementary work experiences that take place at the same time,” said Dr. Alan Johnson, dean of the VU Jasper Campus.

Local industry partners include Indiana Furniture Industries, Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Jasper Rubber, Kimball International, Manufacturing of OFS, Masterbrand Cabinets, and Wabash Valley Produce.

The blend of academic and work experience will make the graduates highly competitive in the marketplace, according to Terry Tucker, director of Talent Acquisition for Kimball International.

“I work in recruiting and that’s what you look for - a blend of the academic and the hands-on, real world experience. They will be able to provide references not only from teachers and advisors in the academic world but also from industry. I truly believe that the relationship started between the student and the partner company will grow to develop into a long-term employment opportunity. I don’t think there is any question about that,” Tucker said.

VU President Dick Helton said the partnership is similar to one that began last year between Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, and Vincennes University. In both partnerships students work in industrial plants on Mondays and Fridays and take classes Tuesday through Thursday, completing an associate degree in two years.

Noting that students will earn an income from the companies while attending college, Johnson said the program is a good option for students seeking to avoid debt to earn a degree.

“The benefits are clear at the end of two years. The person comes out with an associate degree, comes out with two years of work experience that complements what happens in the classroom, probably receives strong consideration for a full-time career, and probably accumulates no debt - and that is significant to many families - because they will be paying their own way,” Johnson said.

Robert Jacobs, executive vice president of Human Resources at Masterbrand Cabinets, said the company appreciates the opportunity to join the partnership as a way to help bridge the skills gap. “We are starting to see some very significant growth in our business. So planning for the future growth is very important to us,” Jacobs said.

In addition to anticipated growth in area manufacturing, VU President Dick Helton said the partnership will also help address another problem - increasing retirements among skilled workers. “With partnerships such as this, I think you are going to find an increase in students entering career and technical education as well as students finding jobs. The important piece of this is that about 90 percent of those students return to their home areas for employment,” Helton said.

Citing the importance to the state’s economy where about 20 percent of employment is tied to manufacturing, Helton said, “If we are going to cure the skills gap in our state, I think we have to have more partnerships. Everybody wins.”

With skilled technicians increasingly needed to program and maintain advanced technologies adopted by manufacturers, graduates of the program will be in strong demand. "This is going to allow us to get the word out about the great opportunities available in manufacturing,” Tucker said.

Calling it an exciting day for the VU Jasper Campus, Johnson said there will be a significant return on investment in the program. “I have been in career and technical education my entire career in four states and it keeps getting better. This is one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved with because it is being driven by the companies. These are progressive companies that understand that they need to grow their own talent. I can’t wait to get this started,” Johnson said.

Participants in the Oct. 23 announcement included Jason Nord, director of Human Resources for Jasper Engines and Transmissions; Brett Ackerman, CEO and president of Indiana Furniture Industries (IFI); Nancy Wilson, vice president of Human Resources of IFI; Jeff Eckert, vice president of Manufacturing of OFS; Brad Schnarr, vice president for Logistics of Wabash Valley Produce; Andy Seger, chief financial officer of Wabash Valley Produce; Robert Jacobs, executive vice president of Human Resources of Masterbrand Cabinets; Terry Tucker, director of Talent Acquisition of Kimball International; Sue Habig, director of Human Resources of Kimball Electronics; Tom Heeke, director of Human Resources of Kimball Office; Reva Baker, vice president of Human Resources of Jasper Rubber; Terri Schultz, senior director of School Engagement of Project Lead the Way’s national office; Indiana State Representative Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; Dick Helton, president of Vincennes University; and Dr. Alan Johnson, dean of the VU Jasper Campus.

 Source: Vincennes University

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