Kokomo, Indiana lands state’s first Earn and Learn program

The City of Firsts lived up to its namesake last week after the state’s first Earn and Learn program launched at Stewart’s Healthcare Consultants.

Earlier this year Governor Eric Holcomb signed an executive order establishing the Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, an arm of the Department of Workforce Development. The goal of the office is to double the number of workers in apprenticeships and work-based learning programs in Indiana by 2020. Last Wednesday, just months later, a ceremony was held at Inventrek Technology Park, which houses Stewart’s Healthcare Consultants, to award business owner Tony Stewart with certificates establishing the local programs.

The program aims to upscale the number of skilled workers in Indiana by offering them an alternative to career center guidance where earning a living and special certifications don’t often go hand-in-hand. Rather, at Earn and Learn programs such as this, those working toward professional licensing can earn a living while improving their job skillsets. That opportunity extends to both high school students and adults.

“It’s key for us to focus on the solutions that help develop those pieces that connect the talent to the opportunities,” said Blair Milo, secretary of career connections and talent for the state of Indiana. “And what’s the fastest way to do that? It’s growing Earn and Learn programs just like the one we’re here to celebrate today.”

Stewart’s Healthcare Consultants will help further this goal by allowing individuals to obtain Certified Nurse Aid (CNA) licensing. Darrel Zeck, the executive director of the office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, explained the office’s role within the program is to provide expertise and framework to help make Stewart’s program successful.

Stewart’s Earn and Learn program will launch its first class in July with between 10 to 15 adults in the first go. Then Stewart anticipates launching a youth class, aimed to help high school students earn dual credits with Ivy Tech as they work toward CNA certification, in August.

“This is a way I can kind of go back and serve,” said Stewart. “To me it opens up an avenue because I feel like there are individuals that don’t have the skills, but they need the skills to help themselves.”

According to Zeck, the aim is to launch Earn and Learn programs around the state focusing on industries such as transportation logistics, the medical profession, manufacturing, IT, and building trades. Although, he noted, there can be variances depending upon regional need.

While such programs are launching at a time when unemployment rates throughout the state are low, the goal is to bolster the number of individuals earning wages within fields requiring certifications beyond high school diplomas but alternative to four-year college degrees. It’s noted by state officials that there remains a worker shortage within the state for skilled positions as there are still portions of the population that are either underemployed or remain unemployed.

While building such a workforce in the present, Zeck said there remains the need to prepare the workers of tomorrow. This comes at a time when high school graduation requirements entail work-based, service-based, or project-based learning opportunities.

“We’re creating pipelines, and we’re creating deliberate decisions for students,” said Carrie Lively, the senior director at the Department of Workforce Development. “They’re making deliberate decisions to enter into a workforce other than, if you look at the number of students who go to post-secondary after high school and the ones who don’t finish their first year or second year of that, (we’re) trying to create opportunities for these students ... We’re going to have 10 million students in the next 10 years with needs and jobs and skills. I think that’s the big key for me.”

As Stewart prepares to launch the state’s first Earn and Learn program, he also noted that the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance and Inventrek Technology Park helped make it all possible.

“They set the conditions up,” said Stewart. “They were just outstanding to have the environment, the room, the space. It was empty, but when I saw an empty room I thought, ‘I could do this’ … Anything I needed they would help me with. It’s just a perfect business spot for me to do that.”