Upskilling the Next Generation of Hoosiers Sets Employers and Students on a Path to Success

Mark Murphy went to college to study accounting. He didn’t pursue that course of study for very long, instead pivoting to tech and advanced manufacturing. As president of PRD, Inc., an injection molding advanced manufacturing company in the Indiana Uplands region, Murphy appreciates the benefits of modern youth apprenticeship programs like UpSkill Work & Learn in helping young adults enter college with a better sense of their passions and career aspirations. That kind of guidance would have been invaluable to him 38 years ago, he said.

Now as a business leader, Murphy is a big believer and supporter of the UpSkill modern youth apprenticeship program established by Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI). ROI is part of the first cohort of statewide pilot programs through the Indiana Youth Apprenticeship Accelerator supported by Ascend Indiana. The UpSkill program offers high school students a 2–3-year paid work-based learning experience where students earn career credentials and college credits. Currently, the UpSkill program partners with eleven high schools and 25 employers in the region in high-demand industries, including advanced manufacturing and logistics, defense, construction, education and government. UpSkill is adding a third cohort this year with 30 new positions, seven new employers and four new high schools.

“Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) is incredibly fortunate to have employer partners such as Mark and his PRD team, who have embraced UpSkill,” said Michi McClaine, vice president of talent development, Regional Opportunity Initiatives. “Mark has walked alongside ROI in thinking through how the program can work for PRD and the students, and the partnership, as well as Mark’s vision for implementing the program has served as a model for others. ROI is committed to being regionally relevant and demand driven, and the components of a modern youth apprenticeship program have proven to be a valued response to the rapidly advancing workforce needs of key sector employers in the Uplands.”

Finding and hiring skilled talent is a persistent challenge for thousands of Indiana employers. In the manufacturing industry alone in Indiana, there were more than 14,000 open jobs for the first three months of this year, according to Lightcast.

Murphy says the resources available in the region, which sits between Bloomington and Bedford, are much more coordinated now making it easier for manufacturers to connect with students and help them understand the types of jobs and career opportunities that exist. He says collaborative efforts by ROI, the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council and others representing industry, education and state and local government are a powerful thing for the area and the economy.

Murphy would like to someday see a statewide system for modern youth apprenticeships. He says having a system of employers statewide, who can help apprentices with different skills move between jobs and employers, if their interests change, would benefit the entire state’s economy.

While the benefits of a modern youth apprenticeship system are great for employers, the biggest benefit is seeing the students become successful.

PRD, Inc. currently employs Maddie Simmerman, a Bedford North Lawrence High School senior. Through the apprenticeship program, she has found a love for engineering, which she hopes to study in college. “It’s just amazing when the students get away from their peers and their school environment and get to a real-world working environment surrounded by adults, just how well they grasp onto concepts and new things,” said Murphy. “It’s just amazing to see 17-year-olds and the responsibilities they can take on and be successful. I think that is the coolest thing.”

But it is not without its challenges. Murphy says for small- to mid-size employers, expanding to take on additional apprentices can be difficult. “Having an apprentice takes mentoring and coaching all while balancing the day-to-day responsibilities of the organization and still making sure the apprentice is successful.” However, for employers hesitant to take on an apprentice, Murphy says “I don’t know why you wouldn’t. From my perspective we have to have a large pool of employers to help support the students and the more we have, the easier it’s going to be to give the students more opportunities.”

Employers and students receive support from ROI and the UpSkill program, which serves as a conduit between the high schools and the employers, to help coordinate student applications, interviews, placement, scheduling, training, compliance and ongoing guidance. In addition, ROI provides mentor and supervisor training regarding working with youth and works with employers to develop individualized work and training plans that align with the job description and the student’s pathway. ROI also conducts open houses with employers for students and their parents.

Murphy says he hopes that Maddie will continue to come back to PRD to work summers and maybe even after college.

And it is no surprise when talking to Murphy why he is so passionate about modern youth apprenticeships and helping to educate the next generation of young people, it’s because he comes by it naturally. Both of his parents were longtime teachers in Shelbyville, Ind.

PRD, Inc. is based in Springville, Ind. and is an injection molding advanced manufacturing company specializing in automotive parts particularly custom LED headlights and taillights for cars. If you are a student or employer in the Indiana Uplands region interested in the UpSkill Work & Learn program, visit