For nearly thirty years, a group of career services professionals has worked together to help students, alumni and employers make connections in northeast Indiana. The group, known as the Northeast Indiana Career Enrichment (NICE) consortium, is comprised of representatives from eight area colleges and universities who collaborate to create a robust pipeline for employment. It’s the collaboration, they say, that makes the group special.
“Rather than competing, we collaborate with one another,” says Indiana Tech’s Cindy Verduce, Director of the Career Center and Regional Career Services. “That’s not necessarily the case in other regions. It’s neat to be able to pull together community resources in this unique way.”
Along with Indiana Tech, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan, Ivy Tech, Manchester University, Trine University and the University of Saint Francis participate in the NICE consortium. The group hosts networking events, facilitates internship programs, identifies talent needs while helping shape curricula around them, and promotes best practices. Most importantly, NICE helps employers make connections with nearly 45,000 area students, countless alumni and a variety of faculty members who can help them fill specific needs for their businesses.
“There aren’t that many people who are in our position who can connect so many different viewpoints,” says Verduce. “We all have individual connections and we bring them back to the group.”
Linda Cooper, career strategist and employer engagement partner from Trine University, emphasizes that communication is multidirectional and proactive. Although employers often reach out to the consortium or one of its member institutions, NICE representatives actively seek opportunities to connect people and opportunities.
“Each of us will let employers know about programs,” says Cooper. “The individual universities have different resources that can help employer projects; we share job opportunities with each other and use feedback from employers to drive programming.”
Natalie Wagoner, director of the career outreach center and employer relations at the University of Saint Francis, remembers a specific example when a representative from an area employer expressed frustration with his difficulty in making inroads to the classroom. Wagoner took that information back to faculty members and they worked together to create content that would work within curriculum requirements while offering exposure to area industries.
“We can use our collective resources to help employers and institutions build specific programs,” says Wagoner.
The NICE consortium also works to communicate students’ wants and needs back to employers, helping them fine tune a company’s culture to attract and retain contemporary talent. The group creates a two-way communication pipeline that serves as a powerful resource for everyone involved.
“We love to hear about culture and how a company retains its talent,” explains Verduce. “Not only do we share best practices among employers, but we also host a panel on diversity so students can tell employers what’s important to them as well.”
One of the group’s biggest challenges is making the community aware of its services.
“Although we work with several large companies on a regular basis,” says Verduce, “there are so many others who don’t realize we’re here.”
Wagoner adds, “We really need to get to the next level so smaller employers know to reach out to us.”
As they work to spread the word about NICE to the community, the group’s members support each other behind the scenes. They communicate constantly, sharing information, relaying opportunities, and making referrals.
Cooper notes, “As a group, we’re easy for an employer to work with. We make it faster to connect to the right place.”
In the end, the collaborative efforts of the NICE consortium serve to strengthen the community as a whole by aligning higher education with workforce development.
“Keeping people working in the region helps develop and grow career clusters,” says Verduce. “It’s an exciting time to be working in this area.”
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Years in Business: 30
Products & Services: Northeast Indiana Career Enrichment Consortium (NICE, Inc.) is a membership organization consisting of eight public and private colleges and universities in the Northeast Region of Indiana. NICE provides career development assistance to students and alumni of the participating institutions through organization and sponsorship of various career networking events and other activities and gives employers access to almost 45,000 students and countless alumni.