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“The Perfect Storm” November 10, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Education, Innovation, Technology, Workforce.
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[This will be one of a periodic series of articles about my experiences with the Northeast Indiana Strategic Skills Initaitive. Indiana’s SSI, as we call it, is responsible for delivering roughly $20 milllion in innovative workforce programming into 11 regions of The Hoosier State over two years to address high-demand, high wage occupational and skill shortages.]

Every now and then, a workforce planner like me stumbles into an environment that you could only hope would happen. In this case, I went to a luncheon thinking that I was going to offer moral support to an SSI partner and left thinking that we had built the foundational elements of a fascinating community of lifelong learning.

Indiana University-Purdue University‘s Business Enterprise Systems and Technology Institute (IPFW-BEST) is a unique entity; Dean John Wellington of IPFW’s Doermer School of Business and Management Sciences brought former DoIt Best Corporation chief technology officer Rob Palevich (pictured) on board to design a center that would take cutting edge business technology applications and develop a unique training environment that would help inject knowledgable workers into the local workforce. This would not only help area employers stay competitive on the technology front, but it would also solidify linkages between IPFW “supply” and its employer “demand” inputs.

Rob is a unique character in the IPFW community – he is a business-oriented instructor who communicates on that wavelength, not the more traditional educator wavelength. He relentlessly sells his programming (classes, seminars, etc.) to the business community – and, somewhat surprisingly, has taken his small institute and built a core group of committed students and employers.  His seminars are growing, and his classes regularly fill up.
If I may, the BEST Institute courses have a bit of a cult following on campus, in part because Palevich’s subject matter and teaching style are so very different than that in the rest of the university. He’s drawing undergrads and graduate students, b-school students and engineers – and the occasional liberal arts student who is looking for a means to enhance their career path.  I gathre from students that nNot only is Palevich an illustrator of the finest technologies, but he’s a fun guy to learn from.
I tell you all that to tell you this:

The BEST Institute received a (roughly) $250,000 SSI grant from my workforce region to take their concepts – advanced technology, active student involvement and employer linkages – and push their envelope. To teach bleeding edge technology. To involve students not just in learning but in researching and in conducting employer-driven case studies. To foster employer-student relationships that will create an employment pipeline for the benefit both sides – and place the BEST Institute in the middle as a preferred provider of globally-competitive talent and technical assistance.

So, when Rob Palevich invited me to attend a luncheon hosted by locally-owned Tower Bank for the benefit of some of northeast Indiana’s most tech-savvy companies, I expected some good discussion. What I saw was much, much more.

First, Palevich offered up a presentation on the BEST Institute, his program offerings (including some real impressive seminars) and his vision for how BEST can help employers achieve their technology goals – through consulting/knowledge transfer and workforce training.

He then talked about the state of technology in northeast Indiana, sharing where the region is and where – with remarkably little effort – it could be, further optimizing operations, increasing productivity and likely improving profits. He also talked about how one of the BEST efforts, for DoIt Best, increased their productivity fifteen-fold. The big trends that he saw for this manufacturing-intensive region were:

  1. A maturing of business processes
  2. Slap & ship (Radio Frequency Identification/RFID)
  3. RFID-enabled warehousing (WMS)
  4. Supply Chain Event Management
  5. RFID crossed with voice
  6. RFID crossed with wireless applications
  7. Application Level Events leading to improved collaboration (ALE)

At that point, Palevich opened up the floor. He welcomed challenges to his presumptions but found instead that the 15 or so corporate technology managers instead praised his work – even to the point where a chief technology officer for a local health system called the BEST Institute “the perfect storm” of technology, education and people.

Further discussion involved:

  • The balance of information security and accessibility
  • The need to overlay (and not necessarily replace) technologies by making the “installed base” technologies more adaptive
  • Traceability of products through the supply chain – when an item was touched, and by whom
  • Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)
  • Open systems standards integration
  • The process of selecting best of breed technology
  • Handling large quantites of very small lot sizes
  • The “convergence” of Voice Over IP (VOIP) and ERP
  • Human resources/training concerns:
    • Hiring developers, trainers and installers
    • Developing communication skills in the technology workforce
    • Building skills in business workflow and accounting
    • Work Ethic
    • Ensuring an ability to learn – as lifelong learning is critical in the technology workforce
    • Keeping baseline university education up to speed with the common standards of the technology industries

The host from Tower Bank spoke to community concerns – that of the need to create meaningful industry partnerships to share data and skill needs, as well as to develop a “people pipeline” that could propel northeast Indiana well into the 21st century.

This group will gather again on a regular basis, hopefully growing their community of interest and providing stronger communication – with each other and with the BEST Institute.

What a great start. As a layperson, it was clear that this dialogue was fresh and somewhat novel to the group. Cheers to Tower Bank and the BEST Institute for making it happen. An aligned, demand-responsive workforce pipeline will surely follow.

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