How to Train a Million Workers

How to Train a Million Workers

Indiana companies across every single industry category will soon be facing a unique workforce development challenge, one that has its origins in a highly positive economic attribute but remains problematic nonetheless. The state overall is experiencing record levels of employment with more people working than ever before. That’s huge, but it has a downside. Job openings still exist throughout the state, and there will soon be a shortage of capable applicants to fill them.

Over the next 10 years, conservative estimates from the state expect there will be a million job openings within Hoosier companies. Some officials have put that figure much higher, saying we’ll need an influx of about 3.4 million workers to maintain our current labor needs. However you look at it, the challenge to produce individuals skilled enough to fill these open positions is upon us now, today.

It’s not just about filling these jobs with warm bodies, either. The vast majority of these projected positions will require post-secondary credentials, advanced certifications, and/or degrees. Long gone are the days when a high school kid could make a qualified applicant for a manufacturing operation. The work, in general, has become too advanced to sustain with unskilled labor.

“Indiana’s unemployment rate has reached historic lows, and we currently have about 95,000 job openings around the state. Now more than ever, our state needs to ramp up efforts to prepare Hoosiers for the jobs available today—and for the one million more we expect to have open by 2025,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

Thus, the groundwork is being laid to produce the kind of talent that tomorrow’s labor force needs require. This fall on the state level new workforce development initiatives kicked off in earnest, several of which are already experiencing considerable participation from the business community. Also, Gov. Holcomb took the step of adding a dedicated individual to his cabinet to specifically address the issue.

The New Blood

Blair Milo, Secretary of Career Connections and Talent

To spearhead its efforts to produce enough workers, Indiana has recently established the new position of secretary of career connections and talent. The governor announced he has appointed former La Porte Mayor Blair Milo as the first secretary for this new position, and she will also be the CEO of the State Personnel Department and will assume oversight of that agency as its director.

Gov. Holcomb said, “This new position will provide the urgent and focused attention required to position Indiana well long-term and ensure our state’s workforce is keeping pace with our economy as it grows and becomes more diverse.”

Milo has a track record of economic success across her resume as La Porte’s mayor. She was able to increase job opportunities, improve infrastructure, and streamline government services. Her new role will require her to build on that success. She be collaborating with business and industry groups to identify employment needs and workers, helping them take advantage of training opportunities.

“Connecting business leaders and employees has been at the forefront of both challenges and opportunities for all Hoosier communities as we continue to grow new numbers and types of jobs across the state,” Milo said. “We want to connect Hoosiers with a job they’re passionate about, and we want our employers to know they can draw from a deep pool of talented, dedicated workers in every corner of the state.”

Her department’s efforts, as well as the efforts of the Department of Workforce Development and Commission for Higher Education, are going to be crucial moving forward in implementing the state’s new plans to elevate our workforce to the ‘next level.’

The Next Level

The state has earmarked funds totaling $20 million to support two new grant programs over the next two years designed to put Hoosiers to work in high-demand, high-wage jobs as quickly as possible and to help employers conduct the kind of training their unique operations require. Together, the two grants make up Indiana’s Next Level Jobs Initiative.

An Education… for Free?

The first component of the Next Level Jobs Initiative is the Workforce Ready Grant, created by the Indiana General Assembly with bipartisan support. Its goal is to skill-up adults to fill jobs in high-demand industries by covering tuition costs for adult learners to earn career certificates in high-growth sectors of the state’s economy.

That’s right. Free tuition. But for what kinds of industries?

For the inception of this grant, Indiana is specifically focusing on boosting the numbers of talented individuals across the following fields:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Building and construction
  • Health and life sciences
  • IT and business services
  • Transportation and logistics

Hoosiers can earn these certificates in these fields through Ivy Tech Community College or Vincennes University campuses around the state. The first two years of the grants will be paid for through $4 million provided by the general assembly plus more than $10 million Commission for Higher Education financial aid funds.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers explained the Workforce Ready Grant will remove a key barrier for adult students that want to continue their education to develop the skills they’ll need for a better paying job in the state’s growing, in-demand industries. Namely, it’ll make educational attainment much more affordable.

Blair Milo commented, “The interest level in this program is already strong and hits hard at some of the challenge areas.”

Affordable Training!

The second part of Next Level Jobs is the Employer Training Grant, which was developed by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD). This could potentially be something very interesting for many Indiana employers, in that it will help offset the costs for training new employees in the aforementioned high-demand industries – plus the addition of agriculture.

The grant will provide up to $2,500 per new employee to qualifying companies that train and retain new hires. DWD will launch a pilot of the grant for 2018 and 2019, paid for with $10 million in Career Technical Education Innovation Funds.

Milo commented that a distinct need for this program arose from some of the supplier companies that support Indiana’s major manufacturers. She said, “Indiana’s major employers were incurring staffing needs from their suppliers, who needed funds to train new employees. Advanced manufacturing is the largest demographic that’s already begun utilizing the Employer Training Grant.”

Renewed Guidance, Young and Old

Beyond the Next Level Jobs Initiative, Indiana is also directing efforts toward the state’s young students. Specifically, career counselors at the high school level are being equipped tools that will hopefully provide more productive individual time with students. The concept overall evaluates what types of career paths fit best for the student – basically, a place to start the conversation about connecting students to opportunities.

A push is also being made across the state by many different apprenticeship programs to expose young people to the value of a career in the trades. Their efforts are working too, as the perception of industrial and construction fields has shifted from dangerous and dirty to high-wage, quality livelihoods in increasingly safe environments.

Educational attainment encouragement is also being targeted toward adults as well. The Commission on Higher Education’s Program “You can. Go back.” is working to help adults finish the degrees they’ve started. $7.5 million in state grants are available for these students, and partnerships are in place with institutions to help alleviate barriers to completing degree programs.

Will it Be Enough?

These programs and others like them within communities, apprenticeship schools, and universities across the state will likely only be the start of what will need to be a much larger push to fill the open positions Indiana will have over the next several years. Other efforts, like cities and towns enhancing their amenities in an effort to retain talent within the state’s borders, will have an impact as well but the question remains: Is it going to be enough?

It’s far too early to measure any kind of employment growth figures yet, but the continued push for new partnerships and education to employment pathways is starting to make a difference. With such high levels of bipartisan support and engagement from the business community, the groundwork is definitely being laid to tackle this difficult problem.

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