Indiana Chamber, Ivy Tech Announce Exclusive Partnership to Aid Workforce Needs

Many Hoosiers looking for a jumpstart to begin or finish their postsecondary education now have a new opportunity through their employers. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Ivy Tech Community College in the Achieve Your Degree program to provide discounted tuition exclusively for Indiana Chamber member companies and their full-time employees.

A 5% discount will apply to a company’s existing or future tuition assistance program, as well as to employees who finance their own education. For convenience, payment is deferred and one invoice is sent at the end of each term that reflects tuition fees after any financial aid has been deducted.

The Indiana Chamber is the state’s largest business advocacy and information organization, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes across the state.

“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t hear from our members about workforce gaps they are experiencing. We encourage them to take advantage of this program and promote it internally. It’s a good approach to upskilling the workforce and addressing their own company’s needs,” explains Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. “And by investing in employees, companies build loyalty and that ultimately helps with retention efforts.”

While thousands of organizations across the state are active members of the Indiana Chamber, Brinegar expects this partnership to entice others, saying the investment to join the organization “will be more than offset by the thousands of dollars a business could save annually on tuition costs.”

Ivy Tech Community College, which has more than 40 locations throughout the state, is the largest public postsecondary institution in Indiana. Ivy Tech started the Achieve Your Degree program in 2016.

What can’t be stressed enough, says Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann, is how customizable and convenient Achieve Your Degree is.

“Ivy Tech will come directly to your worksite and sit down with management and employees to run through the options and listen to what your individual needs are. We’ll connect employees with the specified courses they need to complete their certificate or degree and meet the job demands of the employer. We can also start at the very beginning and help design a tuition assistance policy if a company doesn’t have one.”

Employees can take a combination of online and on-campus coursework that fits their busy schedules.

Ivy Tech Community College provides support throughout the process, assigning a liaison to help coordinate the effort. Assistance with admissions and financial aid applications, plus student advising and tutoring, are all part of the service. Employers also receive marketing materials to help inform employees about the program.

Brinegar believes one key differentiator of Achieve Your Degree can’t be overstated.

“This is not a traditional tuition reimbursement plan and that’s huge. Large upfront costs have proven to be the big stumbling block in employees taking advantage of any continuing education programs their employers may offer.”

Cook Group, headquartered in Bloomington, experienced that firsthand and redesigned its own program so employees didn’t have to wait for reimbursement. Cook Group President Pete Yonkman reported to the Indiana Chamber last year that the company saw an 800% participation increase in its tuition support program, jumping from 50 to 450 employees.

It will take major strides like these to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow and get more people engaged in completing their education, Ellspermann offers.

“We know there are more than half a million people in this state that started college, but life got in the way of finishing it. Further, another million Hoosier workers never pursued college. We believe Achieve Your Degree and the partnership with the Indiana Chamber will entice many Hoosiers to get the certificate or degree that will provide them a brighter future and bolster the state’s workforce.”

Companies can learn more about this exclusive Achieve Your Degree partnership through the Indiana Chamber at; Ivy Tech explains the entire program at

Developing the Entrepreneurial System – Here and There


A professor from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is writing from his home state’s perspective, but sharing insights regarding Midwest entrepreneurial ecosystems and how they might differ from international efforts. He notes four key elements, including the always popular capital and worker skill aspects:

  1. The most important step is connecting with your customer

While understanding the basic fundamentals of cash flow and knowing how to manage a staff is important, businesses everywhere must put finding the customer first if they want to be successful. For Midwestern businesses, that might be a challenge for marketing. For startups in some developing economies, the search can be less abstract: Infrastructure challenges can make connecting with customers more difficult. For example, in Vietnam, the single biggest platform for ecommerce is Facebook — but in rural Morocco, a lack of infrastructure makes ecommerce virtually impossible. Interpersonal connections and marketplaces remain indispensable.

  1. Success begets success

In the United States, the story of every successful startup cluster begins with capital — and one of the best sources of capital is another company’s exit. We’ve also seen that for every $1 a Michigan startup receives from a Michigan VC firm, it attracts $4.61 of investment from outside of Michigan. Cash is the fertilizer, and the more of it in the environment, then the more likely the economy will grow.

This logic doesn’t always hold in developing economies, one of the hallmarks of which is no middle class and a huge income disparity. When wealth is created in these environments, there are many places that the money can be reinvested in besides another startup: to fund education, for example, or to buy more land. That being said, more wealth generated by new venture activity has the potential to lift the income threshold and lead to a more stable, flourishing economy. 

  1. Give your talent the fulfillment they need

A major challenge for small communities is talent, no matter where they are located. But talent isn’t just about having smart people — it’s about having people with the skills needed to build a business, and a community that can support them. In the Midwest, that talent gap often takes the form of local workers who are educated, well-trained, and experienced in running a business, but who might not choose to stay and work in their communities if there aren’t opportunities that appeal to them.

Robust entrepreneurial ecosystems with more activity have the potential to attract top talent away from more metropolitan areas. It can become a self-sustaining cycle once it gets going, but may take a significant event or local unicorn to get it kicked into action. In developing countries, that more often looks like workers who have limited skills, who need the determination and resources to invest in themselves — and who need an ecosystem that can provide them with that base.

  1. Take local differences into account

What works in Silicon Valley doesn’t always work in Chicago — and what works in Kosovo might not work in Vietnam. When it comes to translating what has worked in one place to another, the details become local, and critical. Some business climates trust banks and credit lines; others operate solely in cash. In some places, the local language is widely spoken; in others, that local language could be six different dialects. Just as the National Venture Capital Association has local chapters to better understand and focus on the small ecosystems being built all over the United States, context is everything for entrepreneurs looking to get off the ground no matter where they are.

While languages, customs, and currency differ from country to country, one thing doesn’t: When entrepreneurs and innovation win, it can lift the outlook of an entire economy. With the right resources and support, the Midwest has stepped up to create the jobs and standing it needs to survive in the modern economy — and developing ecosystems around the world are doing the same.

5 Important Skills Job Seekers Should Master

Ragan takes a look at a few key skills that recent grads, interns and anyone searching for a job should focus one if he/she hopes to be employable:

1. Hone your telephone etiquette.

Thanks to the texting takeover, phone manners have become exceptionally rare. “Hey, girl” may be appropriate for your personal calls (actually, it still probably isn’t), but if you answer the phone like that at work, prepare to be embarrassed and/or chewed out.

Listen to the way your co-workers answer the phone. Do they provide their name? (“This is Meredith.”) Or do they use a more generic greeting? (“Ragan Communications—how may I help you?”) Have a pen and paper next to your phone at all times so you can take messages. Make sure you know your office phone number so you know what to say when someone asks for your contact information. Learn how to transfer, dial out of the building, etc. This may sound ridiculous, and that’s exactly why this is so important. Do you really want to be known as “The Intern Who Can’t Answer The Phone?”

2. Learn to multitask.

Maybe you’re a whiz at juggling research papers, midterms, and group projects, but multitasking at work is a different beast. You might like to spend three hours perfecting an article, but you also need to answer emails, schedule interviews, meet with co-workers and research potential story ideas—all before noon.

Before you start work each day, make a “to-do” list. What’s the first thing you need to do when you arrive at 9 a.m.? What’s the second (and so forth)? If you aren’t given a deadline for a particular story, ask your boss when they’d like to see your first draft. You may be hesitant to seek help (we’re all vying for the Omniscient Intern award), but better you should ask than drop the ball and cause everyone to fall behind.

3. Wordiness is not rewarded.

You might’ve gotten brownie points for using “panjandrum” in your college essay, but you can be sure it won’t make it past the first round of revisions. When writing for the Web, flowery language is not your friend. Concise, simple, and clear writing is. When writing copy, ask yourself, “Would the average reader have to look this up?” If the answer is yes, pick a different word or phrase. You’re not going to sound stupid if you swap “barmecidal” with “fake”; on the contrary, you’ll avoid the risk of sounding like a snob.

4. Bye-bye, body paragraph.

Your English professor might have encouraged (or demanded) a carefully crafted argument of five to seven sentences, but that technique is no good when writing for the Web. Eye Tracking Studies have shown that readers not only avoid long paragraphs, they’ll even skip the end of the article if you don’t keep them engaged.

Be concise. Get to the point.

5. Thought your grammar school days were behind you? You’re dead wrong.

Still not sure when to use “your” versus “you’re”? Stop what you’re doing, and take out your notebook (hint, hint). Including these mistakes in your writing samples (or worse, on your résumé) practically begs an editor not to hire you.

Learn when to use ellipses, semicolons, and em dashes. Know the difference between “affect” and “effect.” Editors know what they’re looking for, and their expectations are high. (See what I did there?) Your AP Style book should be within reach at all times. Not only will it help you become a grammar guru, it will guarantee instant admiration from your editor.

Don’t Get Angry; Get Informed

I’ve been with the Indiana Chamber for just over a year now and in that time I’ve gotten to write about many of the Chamber’s initiatives and programs. The more I learn, the more fascinating I find the work they do for the state of Indiana. One that has really been catching my attention lately is Ready Indiana, the Chamber’s workforce education initiative.

In fact, I think of Ready Indiana every time I see anything about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

I know it doesn’t seem these two have a common link, but hear me out. I’ve been reading through various news articles and posts on Facebook and talking to what supporters I can find to try and figure out what exactly the OWS group is upset about (still haven’t found one actual common theme – to me it just seems that everyone who is angry about anything has backed this movement).

One of the gripes I’ve seen most often, however, has been about the fact that college students are graduating with major amounts of debt to enter a job market without well-paying jobs. Another facet of the movement is upset about the fact that the older generation doesn’t have the skills for the new jobs that are being created, or the money to go out and get the necessary education.

These two points are where Ready Indiana (and any other workforce development or education initiative across the nation) comes in – opportunities do exist for the experienced workers and those who are right out of school. Below are just a few examples.

On the Ready Indiana web site,, there’s a long list of middle-skills jobs that Indiana can’t do without (computer support specialists, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, lab technicians, heavy truck drivers, and many more). The list includes the number of job openings in each field and the median earnings for 2009 – the lowest median earning on that list is $33,407; the highest is $67,280.

These middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Employers, community colleges, private career schools and apprenticeship programs offer the necessary training and skills for these careers. High schools are also beginning to offer more technical courses so that students don’t have to graduate and venture into the job market with huge debt.

To combat the workforce skills gap, Ready Indiana recently announced a partnership with the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), which will allow employers to train their current and even prospective employees in-house through a nationally-recognized training program for manufacturing and logistics. On-the-job training grants are available, and the completed certification is also good for six credits to Ivy Tech Community College.

There are jobs available – in fact, a common complaint by employers is that they cannot find qualified workers to fill their many open positions. This BizVoice® story that appeared in the July-August edition features Westfield Steel and is a good example of Hoosier employers practically begging for qualified applicants.

These are just a few small hints into what is available to Hoosiers who are willing to do the research and find existing job opportunities. Personal responsibility is an important key to finding employment, whether you’re fresh out of school or making a comeback into the workforce.

Protesting might get your anger or frustrations out, but it doesn’t give you an income, access to health insurance or a sense of security. Utilizing resources like Ready Indiana and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, however, can lead to those important measures.

Tick, Tock on the Clock

No, I’m not singing the pop song “TiK ToK” by Kesha – I’m trying to express the importance and urgency of updating Hoosier workforce skills. Seriously, the clock is ticking.

As the four experts who discussed this need in our most recent roundtable discussion in the current edition of BizVoice® have attested, the skills that were once able to secure a good job just won’t suffice now.

“We see the jobs that required low skill levels and lack of computational ability; lack of ability to evaluate information, analyze information and generally contribute to a company’s bottom line – those jobs just don’t exist any longer,” notes Gina DelSanto, senior deputy commissioner for education and training at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

For Indiana to remain competitive, more residents need the skills to fill open jobs in technology, manufacturing, logistics and more. Part of the problem stems from a lack of education for many Hoosiers.

“With more than 500,000 members of our workforce, there is more than one in five lacking a high school diploma. Those individuals simply do not have the skills that they need in order to compete for jobs and help Indiana companies become stronger in the new economy,” DelSanto adds.

Read the full article to find out about a surprising mismatch between the number of employers with job openings and the high unemployment rate, as well as the success story of a southwestern Indiana company.

‘Cheers’ for Ratzenberger’s Take on Skills Shortage

As a man who continues to make more than a few dollars from his acting career (think mail carrier Cliff Clavin on Cheers and a character voice in every Pixar movie since Toy Story), John Ratzenberger said many are surprised when he calls for turning off the television (video games, etc.) and sending kids outside to learn how to make things.

John Ratzenberger’s Made in America on the Travel Channel has celebrated the American worker but also highlighted the pending skills crisis in America. A documentary, Industrial Tsunami, to be released in early 2011 will illustrate the threats of this skills shortage to our economy and way of life.

A few of Ratzenberger’s key points during his most interesting presentation this week to the Chamber board of directors:

  • The importance of kids playing and learning with their hands — everything from utilizing the box that contained the new appliance to building the treehouse in the backyard. Ratzenberger was a carpenter (he helped build the stage at Woodstock) and deck hand on a ship, among other jobs, during his younger days.
  • The demise of shop and auto classes in the education system. A member of the board of trustees at Pepperdine and Sacred Heart universities, he says he has advised university presidents that in addition to their areas of study, students should be required to know how to change a tire before they graduate.
  • There is a deficit of 500,000 welders in the U.S. and colleges awarded twice as many degrees a year ago in sports management than engineering.
  • "Blue collar" has almost become a dirty phrase, including in portrayals on television and in the movies.
  • The harm of the entitlement mentality among many today. "You don’t get self-esteem by being handed things; you get self-esteem by making things, by your accomplishments."
  • High standards are a must — in education and all aspects of life. Ratzenberger continues his 15-year relationship with Pixar because it refuses to lower its standards when producing its movies.
  • His top piece of advice for business men and women: get involved in your schools and make a difference. 

Workforce Challenge: It’s a Big One

Traditionally, when it comes to innovative state comparisons, all too often Indiana finds itself on the short end of the stick. That is changing in some areas, including a recent Indiana Chamber study on the state of our workforce.

Indiana’s Adult Education and Workforce Skills Performance Report found that 931,366 adults (ages 18-64) have not completed high school, speak little or no English and/or are in families that earn less than a living wage (twice the level of poverty). While the challenge may be daunting, the state is ahead of the game in its analysis and has a policy team in place working on solutions.

Patrick Kelly of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems helped conduct the study. He says Indiana is emerging as a national leader.

“It is entirely unique – there’s not a report like it that really isolates this particular issue,” Kelly says. “Other states have addressed policy and some measures of accountability, but none are as concise and focused on this issue.”

The topic is an Indiana Chamber priority. It should be for everyone.