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The Future of Work: How Muncie organizations are preparing for advancements in technology, changes to the workforce

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The future of work is changing. Soon—perhaps by the time the next generation of employees enter the workforce—nearly every job will have been impacted by technology, automation, advanced cloud computing or artificial intelligence, said Corey Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic Institute Anderson.

“Technology is not going to replace humans,” Sharp clarified, but he said it’s vital that future employees learn how to work with these evolving technologies in the workforce.

To prepare the next generation of workers for these changes, citizens, businesses, nonprofits and educational organizations in Muncie have teamed up to form Future of Work, a collaborative initiative to connect community assets and opportunities to generate solutions for 21st century workforce needs.

“We live in a very complex, dynamic world; it’s constantly changing,” said Kyra Zylstra, Future of Work coordinator. “Unless we are proactive in how we approach the future of work, we are going to feel unprepared.”

Coordinated by Sustainable Muncie Corporation, key partners in the Future of Work initiative include Purdue Polytechnic, Ball State University, Ivy Tech, MadJax, Muncie Community Schools, Mursix, Magna PowerTrain and other local businesses. The effort is supported by Ball Brothers Foundation, which has awarded special funding totaling over $600,000 in the past three years to Future of Work programs.

“Our community has been heavily shaped by manufacturing: The Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company and many other entrepreneurial companies generated jobs and an economic boom here in Muncie over a century ago, demonstrating the significant impact manufacturing can have on a region,” said Jud Fisher, president and chief operating officer of Ball Brothers Foundation. “As a foundation, we recognize the value of hands-on jobs and the need to develop and sustain a skilled workforce. Future of Work is about preserving the economic success of our community over multiple generations.”

Overall, one of the main focus areas of Future of Work is to build and strengthen the “STEM education to workforce” pipeline, Zylstra explained.

“One of the needs we discovered in talking with both the educational partners and the industry partners was ways to strengthen that pipeline,” Zylstra said.

One of the solutions? An East Central Indiana VEX Robotics league, created in partnership with Purdue Polytechnic.

“Several elementary schools offered basic programs in robotics, and then there were some really advanced high school program offerings, but there wasn't much of a middle ground,” Zylstra said. “There weren’t many places for students to plug in at the middle school or introductory high school level.”

To create the league, Sustainable Muncie and Purdue Polytechnic worked with more than a dozen schools across Delaware, Madison, Jay and Hancock counties. The league, in which teams design and build robots for competitions, provides an opportunity for students in East Central Indiana to practice STEM concepts firsthand.

Grants from Ball Brothers Foundation have helped support training for teachers and coaches, as well as the creation of new teams.

Future of Work funding from the foundation has also helped to build direct linkages between K–12 schools, higher education institutions, and local employers—like when students from Muncie Central High School toured the facilities at Mursix and Magna last year.

“The purpose of this work-based learning opportunity is to provide students with the opportunity to build knowledge, develop skills and advance in a certain career pathway,” said Susan Murray Carlock, vice president of business development at Mursix.

Corbin Black, human resources coordinator at Mursix, said there are more career pathways at a company like Mursix than one might think. He said the student tours allowed his team to connect with students through topics and potential career paths that engaged them most.

“Many students are learning about programming, so we worked to translate that we have programmers. There’s plenty of opportunity with computers still,” Black said. “Working at a factory is not necessarily about standing at a machine; other things are going on as well.”

The tours served as a way to break other stereotypes about factories, too. Both Black and Stephen Brand, general manager at Magna, said many people mistakenly think factories are dark and dirty.

“Advanced manufacturing today is not that dark, smoky factory that you heard about from your grandfather. It’s clean, it’s well lit, the air quality is good—it’s a good environment,” Brand said.

Brand also explained that advanced manufacturing offers steady, safe work with good compensation. For people who live in Delaware County, where these facilities are a stone’s throw away, there’s a good opportunity to have a career—not just a job—in this industry.

In addition to breaking stereotypes about manufacturing, the tours led to the creation of dual credit courses for high school students.

The courses—which include computer graphics technology, engineering fundamentals and more—are specifically designed to meet the needs of local manufacturers and give students a competitive edge when obtaining a relevant degree or certificate from Purdue Polytechnic or Ivy Tech.

But preparing students for changes in the workforce goes beyond STEM education, Sharp said.

“The Future of Work and what we want to do is to help folks not only understand the technology that’s coming, but we also want to work with them from a humanities perspective,” Sharp said. “It’s about how you use empathy in ways you can reshape the workforce. A good background in humanities and an understanding of human beings is going to be a big part of the future of work.”

That’s why, in addition to enhancing STEM education opportunities, Future of Work focuses on building connections within the community and supporting person-centered workforce development.

“Instead of creating new programming, we want to use all of the tremendous assets that already exist in the local community and connect those assets to create new opportunities,” Zylstra said. “There's gold in the community. There are ideas that just haven't been amplified yet.”

Working to amplify those uncovered ideas, Future of Work is guided by three words: curiosity, connection and purpose.

“The way we increase our curiosity about what's possible, increase our connection to each other and to new ideas, and increase our purpose both in what we're doing and how we're doing it—these are the ways we can help shape the future of work into something we're really excited about,” Zylstra said.

To learn more about Future of Work, visit

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