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Portage Students Get a Well-Rounded Education

Thursday, May 18, 2017

In April, 70 high school students from Portage, IN toured three different healthcare facilities, learned about almost 20 occupations and found out what education was needed and what sorts of career opportunities each presented. The tours were called “Healthcare 360” and are part of the local 360 Degree program.

The Portage Economic Development Corporation was one of the partners in organizing these tours, along with Portage High School, Ivy Tech, the three healthcare employers and Center of Workforce Innovations.

“The question was asked of me, why is Portage economic development doing this?” wrote Andy Maletta, Director of Economic Development for the City of Portage in a follow-up email after the tours, “The answer is simple. More often than not our high school students graduate and don’t know what they want to do but feel they need to leave Portage to find a job and someday raise their family. Even those who go away to college most often don’t come back. In order for our community to continue to grow and prosper we must find ways to keep our young talent here in Portage.” Maletta outlines three steps, including investing in quality of place amenities and developing a skilled workforce to attract and grow businesses. Those two steps aren’t all of it though; “The last step is showing [students and their families] the many opportunities in many various fields with good paying jobs and careers. That is economic development and that is what the 360 degree program is all about.”

Too often in the healthcare industry, people assume there are doctors and nurses and that’s about it. The truth is there are dozens of different occupations that suit various interests, offer different career paths and have a variety of educational requirements. By visiting NorthShore Health Center’s Lake Station facility, St. Mary’s Valparaiso Healthcare facility and Porter Regional Hospital, students observed and interacted with workers in pediatrics, human resources, imaging, laboratory, physical therapy and many more areas. Many of these jobs are hard to fill since people don’t know about them, so by educating students and offering them opportunities, the community is also helping its local healthcare businesses by preparing a pipeline of potential workers

“This program helps employers in Portage identify careers that are hard to fill, and create awareness of career ladders to make sure these positions can be filled as the industry continues to grow,” said Sandy Alvarez of the Center of Workforce Innovations, a regional non-profit whose focus is on workforce solutions and who partnered in the program. Alvarez added that learning experiences grounded in hands-on and face-to-face interaction like this are much different than just hearing about jobs in your usual classroom. “In this case, these students were given lab coats and working stethoscopes. You could see a whole other attitude, comparing before and after. These weren’t just abstract jobs they were learning about, they had become real opportunities.”

The students also visited Ivy Tech Community College to learn more about how they could pursue these careers, getting the necessary education locally and affordably.

Maletta concludes that these types of programs will bring positive changes to Portage for both its businesses and its population. With such a well-rounded program that spreads awareness and develops interest, educates about the opportunities and shows students what actions they need to take to achieve the goals, it’s easy to agree.

Andy Maletta, Executive Director

Portage Economic Development Corporation