ELKHART (Nov. 5, 2019) — On Tuesday, two members of Congress saw firsthand how Elkhart County is collaborating and innovating to help people here live, work, and grow better.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., held a roundtable event at Kem Krest on Nov. 5 to learn more about Horizon Education Alliance, particularly the work we’re doing to create a youth apprenticeship system.
Walorski and Davis are the ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the House Ways and Means Worker and Family Support subcommittee. As part of their work on that subcommittee, Walorski and Davis oversee a range of critical programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the $1.7 billion Social Services Block Grant, federal-state unemployment insurance, and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for very poor seniors and severely disabled children and adults.
In August, Walorski accompanied Davis on a bipartisan fact-finding trip to his home district in Chicago to discuss the importance of social support programs dedicated to helping people and families overcome challenges and escape poverty. In return, Walorski invited Davis this week to visit Elkhart County in her home district to see the ways we’re creating partnerships to support people’s educational and occupational goals with proven programs and systems.
“In some areas of the country, you have ‘Help Wanted’ signs, and of course in other areas, there are no jobs to be had,” Davis said. “So meeting the demands … we’ve determined you’re not going to be able to tell us [the solution] as Republicans and Democrats or Democrats and Republicans.”
“Whether you’re in downtown Chicago or here in Elkhart County, the problems are the same,” Walorski said. “It’s going to take first responders — and I call all of you first responders — you’re the ones who rush in to save, create, innovate, develop those kinds of things that you’re doing here with HEA.”
One of those HEA systems, CareerWise Elkhart County, is building a model of modern youth apprenticeships through partnerships between the county’s school districts, higher education entities, government agencies, and local employers. Walorski and Davis heard from Northridge High School junior Graham Neer, who is one of the first 13 students in Elkhart County to become a youth apprentice. Neer works as a project coordinator at Kem Krest for about half of his school time, and attends classes for the other half.
As he progresses through the next three years of his apprenticeship, Neer will be earning wages for his work as well as credit toward graduation from high school, and eventually he will earn credit toward a college degree and/or professional certification, depending on his own educational goals.
“What I’m getting from this experience is more than I can put a dollar value on,” Neer said. “It changes the perspective I have on the future.”
Neer’s supervisor at Kem Krest, Maintenance Repair Operations Manager Travis Meyer, said the experience Neer and his fellow youth apprentices are having in the professional world at such a young age will help them make better decisions about their education and their career on an earlier timeline than most of their peers.
“Graham is getting a wide range of experience in the business world that most kids in high school don’t have,” Meyer said. “The fact that he knows the terminology, he knows business etiquette, how to handle himself in a professional environment, how to lead a meeting … whatever he chooses to do after graduation, he’s going to be so far ahead.”
Kem Krest Director of HR Lori Stanger, a former HEA board member, pointed out that Kem Krest collaborated with HEA in creating an Advanced Manufacturing Sector partnership, which included an adult apprenticeship program, before signing on as an initial partner in CareerWise Elkhart County more recently. She said these partnerships improve the business in many ways.
“We’ve graduated the first cohort in the adult apprenticeship program, they’re moving on through their job book and they’re going to be nationally certified in logistics,” Stanger said. “So that’s been a great success, and when we started talking to HEA about the CareerWise youth apprenticeship program, it was a no-brainer. … The benefits we’ve seen, they’re exponential. It’s not just students like Graham coming to us more career-ready with real-life skills, it’s how our incumbent workforce is engaged by the apprentices, how they’re learning and developing leadership skills.”
HEA President and CEO Brian Wiebe praised Kem Krest for their leadership in being among the first to see the value of a youth apprenticeship program. He also praised Walorski and Davis for modeling the kind of bipartisan, collaborative learning approach that HEA and its partners are working so hard to foster and maintain in Elkhart County.
“Over the last seven years since Horizon Education Alliance was launched, I don’t remember a single instance where anyone cared one bit about political party,” Wiebe said. “It’s simply been about working together.”