Catapult boosts lives, fills much-needed jobs
Bob McQuern is getting goosebumps.
The Director of Catapult Indiana, Conexus Indiana’s program that trains people for careers in the advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, McQuern is describing the difference the program makes in the lives of its participants.
“Many students have either struggled to find successes in life or have found themselves in a job that lacks true meaning,” he says. “This gives them that accomplishment, that boost to help them get into the workplace, find a meaningful career and be what they can be.”
McQuern pauses, a slight catch in his voice. “I’m getting goosebumps,” he says. “Sorry.”
A free 160-hour training program, Catapult gives unemployed and underemployed adults as well as high school students the skills they need to begin careers in advanced manufacturing and logistics, the industries that generate one-third of Indiana’s gross domestic product by making and moving products used around the world.
From people working minimum-wage jobs to high school students beginning to think about the future, and from people emerging from incarceration to those settling here from other countries, Catapult students get classroom instruction and hands-on experience as well as opportunities to connect with employers eager to hire them. And these employers aren’t just looking for workers to fill jobs; they’re looking for people ready to launch careers in industries that pay an average salary of $75,000 and provide great benefits.
“It’s a long-term career opportunity,” McQuern says.
The eagerness on the part of employers to connect with new workers cannot be overstated. Indiana’s manufacturing and logistics companies could be looking to fill as many as 100,000 positions in the near future – between current unfilled positions and a large sector of the workforce approaching retirement.
It was this ongoing need for workers that sparked the creation of Catapult. Many of Indiana’s top manufacturing employers—companies such as Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Red Gold, NTN Drive Shaft, Cummins, Allison Transmission and Toyota Boshoku – recognized a few years ago that the pipeline of trained workers was not as robust as it needed to be. So they helped develop the curriculum for Catapult and continue to work closely with Conexus Indiana to support the program – many even help to connect Catapult graduates to job opportunities.
Offered in a variety of locations statewide – in conjunction with Ivy Tech, TeenWorks, Goodwill, Crossing School, Greater Lafayette Career Academy, Pathways Together (which helps refugees and immigrants like those who consulted with a family immigration attorney) and other organizations – Catapult combines lessons in the “soft skills” needed to succeed in any workplace with hands-on production experience.
Catapult participants spend half of their time in the classroom learning about topics such as lean manufacturing and efficiency processes, critical thinking and problem solving, workplace culture, teamwork, safety procedures and workplace ethics. In this time they also are introduced to concepts such as process diagnostics and the importance of standardized processes.
“We’re teaching them to understand the things that are important,” McQuern says. “When they get to the job, they understand the principles and they are more successful.”
The other half of the Catapult program is spent in a hands-on setting, where students learn fundamental skills, are introduced to quality concepts and taught how to maintain health, safety and wellness on the job. To introduce the students to the most basic production line concepts, Catapult starts by having them work together to build cars out of Legos on a moving conveyer. From this, they learn how each role builds on another and how they must work in concert to achieve their common objective.
In some areas – including Marion County – students receive a stipend while they are participating in Catapult, and when they complete the program they will have earned six credits with Ivy Tech that can be used toward degrees in advanced manufacturing and logistics programs – a value of roughly $1,000, McQuern says.
Across Indiana roughly seven out of 10 people who enroll in the program graduate, and nine out of 10 of those graduates will receive at least one job offer, with many receiving three or four offers at once.
McQuern loves to point to that 90% placement rate, but it’s when he talks about Catapult’s impact on individuals that his goosebumps really start popping up. He describes one participant who had been in prison for a number of years and was looking to turn his life around. When he began the program, the student conceded that he didn’t even know how to talk to the instructors because he had no experience in a professional setting. But he applied himself. He showed up early every day. He stayed late every day.
“He took advantage of the tools we were giving him,” McQuern says. “Now he’s a welder making $27 an hour and contributing to his community.”
For Catapult, that’s the ultimate happy ending: a Hoosier got a start on a career with a future, an employer got a reliable worker, and the state and community benefited as a result of both outcomes.
It’s the kind of result that can give a person goosebumps.
For more information about Catapult Indiana, go to https://www.conexusindiana.com/cultivating-talent/catapult-indiana/.