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Starke County’s Got SCILL

Thursday, February 04, 2016

ED Impact spoke with SCILL Director Ron Gifford about how this organization has grown to meet the needs of its community and its businesses and what kind of success it has achieved through this approach to workforce training.

What began as a program teaching management and computer literacy has since grown and adapted to the changing times by offering computer programming, automotive repair, welding, and continuing industrial education programs in a four-county area. Soon it will be adding a program in robotics as well. These programs are now available to both adults and vocational high school aged persons and allow for industry-recognized certification as well as internship opportunities.

According to Gifford, more than 600 students have graduated from the two-year automobile technology program. The current class of 66 students has earned 206 ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certifications, and of those seven of them have earned all 10 certifications available.

In the welding program, ten 12-week adult training classes have resulted in more than 100 graduates, many of whom have obtained AWS (American Welding Society) certification in at least one area. “Approximately 80 percent of the graduates of this adult program have found employment this way,” Gifford says. Additionally, 70 high school students have enrolled in the program in its first three years.

A brief history of SCILL:


  • The Board of Directors of the Starke County Economic Development Foundation (SCEDF) establishes SCILL as a 501(c)(3) organization with the purpose of creating and nurturing a trained workforce for the county’s growing industrial base.
  • Not only was this before “skills gap” was as common a phrase as it is today, but this operation is believed to be unique in that a local economic development organization owns and operates a separate entity that deals with workforce development.
  • The first year of classes began in August with Ancilla College acting as the Fiscal Agent for SCILL ever since.
  • The first year of classes was concentrated on management, leadership and computer literacy


  • After a successful first year, Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University North Central also began offering classes at SCILL
  • SCILL expanded from adult classes to offering courses for high school age persons as well


  • SCILL received a $250,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment Fund. The funds were used to purchase new computer equipment and to start two computer programming courses


  • The computer programming courses are made available to the North Central Area Vocational Cooperative (NCAVC), the vocational educational organization for 10 high schools in four counties.


  • Automobile technology classes begin at SCILL. As of 2015, SCILL is one of only two high school programs in Indiana that is NATEF-certified in all eight areas of certification. ASE student certifications are available in 10 subject areas. The program also features an internship opportunity


  • At the request of the SCEDF, an American Welding Society (AWS) certification program was established that serves both high school vocational programs through the NCAVC as well as adults. This also features an internship program, often resulting in students receiving offers of full employment on graduation


  • After planning on 2015, a program on automation, robotics and equipment maintenance is planned for a fall 2016 launch. SCILL has already received commitments of $450,000 in grants to support this program

Even with all the growth and new programs though, Gifford says SCILL continues to be faithful to its original mission of helping Starke County residents attain life and job skills to become more productive employees and citizens and of helping industrial businesses grow and prosper in Starke County.

Ron Gifford, Director
Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning