Tried and True, Growing the Modern Apprenticeship Movement in South Bend – Elkhart

Job openings may be posted throughout the region, but many of these positions are not being filled. Employers say they see this situation too often, where the need for skilled employees exceeds the number of skilled individuals available in the labor pool, reflecting the skills gap that is visible in Indiana as well as other regions nationwide.

Workers are available; however, many lack the necessary skills—especially those in high technology–to fill these positions. Advanced manufacturing and changes related to COVID are expected to move toward increasing use of automation. Thus, as the state and regional economy move toward more reliance on industries that depend on technology, the skills gap will limit economic progress and dampen the ability of regional companies to compete.

One of the key methods to fill this need for skilled workers is through apprenticeships. Not a new solution in itself, the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Program was initiated in 1937. In the simplest terms, apprenticeships allow individuals to earn an income as they learn valuable skills through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Apprenticeships have a demonstrated record of success in developing a qualified workforce. In 2017, an executive order expanded the program and in March of this year, a reauthorization of the act was initiated.

The concept of paid work plus an instructional component is clear, but achieving the best results depends on the quality standards of the program. To address the quality challenge that currently faces our region, the LIFT Network is designing program pilots to test and codify modern models of apprenticeship. In collaboration with our region’s workforce investment board, the Northern Indiana Workforce Board, regional leaders are mapping occupation demands, willing employer partners and building a training fund to support early adopters.

Unified support for the apprenticeship program is provided by the a network of county-level intermediaries that have been funded to advance planning grants within Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties. Those partners include the Horizon Education Alliance, South Bend Regional Chamber, and the Plymouth Community School Corporation Career & Technical Education Office. In collaboration with the Northern Indiana Workforce Board, which maintains programs that provide career and employer services, the LIFT Network apprenticeship ecosystem shows promise for future success.

Within the greater South Bend-Elkhart region, the Labs for Industry Futures and Transformation (LIFT) emerging apprenticeship program is one of several applied learning paths designed to bring about the development of skills that are suited to a modern industry and resilient to changes brought about through increased automation.

LIFT apprenticeships will offer opportunities for reskilling incumbent workers as well as training for recent high school graduates and other populations. Identified credentials earned are nationally recognized and fully portable. Specifically, in Northern Indiana, there is a great need for technology talent, especially for software development and robotics technology, respectively (and in some cases jointly). The region not only lacks sufficient skilled workers for future advancement, but also lacks enough trained workers to support current needs. LIFT Apprenticeships and similar programs give employers the opportunity to cultivate the precise workforce they need—they can effectively “grow their own” specialized workers through precisely targeted training and education.

Any employers interested in piloting a LIFT Apprenticeship program may reach out to the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership’s Director of Education & Workforce Initiatives – Leighton Johnson – via email at