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Initiatives target building job skills

– Indiana House members applauded recently after passing a bill creating the Indiana Career Council, and Gov. Mike Pence has called his Indiana Works Councils a key legislative priority.

But how are the two measures different from each other, and are they just another layer of government bureaucracy?

“This is about getting more parties involved in and around workforce issues,” Pence said. “I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.”

At issue is the so-called skills gap. Business leaders say tens of thousands of jobs are available in the state and yet Indiana still has an 8 percent unemployment rate. That’s because the unemployed workers don’t have the right skills for the available jobs.

Some of the skills are basic – math, reading a ruler, character, integrity. Others require training, such as nursing, welding or computer technology classes.

Indiana has the Department of Workforce Development, which handles unemployment but also has regional workforce centers that offer career training and adult education.

The bipartisan issue has everyone on board, but the solutions being pondered aren’t short-term fixes.

“We should be talking about skills creation, not job creation,” said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. “The economy is not robust, but there are jobs today. We just need employees with the right skills.”

Pence and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma have taken different approaches to the problem.

First, there is Senate Bill 465, which is being written by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, on behalf of the governor. It easily passed the Senate and has moved on to the House.

It authorizes the governor to establish an Indiana Works Council for each distinct geographic region of the state. These groups must submit a comprehensive evaluation of the career, technical and vocational education opportunities available to high school students in the region by Nov. 1.

Starting in 2014, each regional council may develop an alternative curriculum for high school students that generally establish a career pathway to a high-wage, high-demand job available in the region. This could focus on opportunities for students to pursue internships and apprenticeships, earning industry certification or credits toward an associate degree. It will be region-specific, meaning it will focus on specialties and needs of that area.

Pence has said in the past that he wants local businesses to work with the councils and high schools to provide the needed training in that region.

The House GOP budget has set aside $6 million over the biennium to aid the process.

The second effort is House Bill 1002 authored by Bosma and House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath. It easily passed the House and is headed to the Senate.

It would create the Indiana Career Council to align the state’s education, job skills development and career training system with the existing future needs of the state’s job market.

The council would be similar to the Indiana Education Roundtable, including being led by the governor and involving stewards from both the public and private sector.

By August, the group must provide an annual inventory of current job and career training activities. And by July 1, 2014, it must submit a strategic plan to the legislature to improve the overall system.

The House budget has $750,000 to fund the council and develop a data system called the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System.

“There still has to be a lot of discussion on how you merge these two bills,” said Pat Kiely, president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association. “We already have a system in place with everybody parked in silos. This is an attempt to get the silos talking to each other in a coordinated effort.”

Separate to those measures is simply adding money to the state’s Skills Enhancement Fund to train and educate Hoosier workers. The House budget doubles the funding to $36 million over the biennium in hopes of getting unemployed Hoosiers into necessary training programs and helping employers upgrade skills of current employees.

Sampson said some areas of the state will benefit more than others from the efforts.

He said that northeast Indiana already has an active regional workforce system that works directly with industry, and the area has been blessed with an Eli Lilly Endowment grant to aid a talent initiative.

Sampson hopes whatever comes from the various councils, the plans work within the current workforce investment boards, which is how Indiana receives federal funding.

“Direct alignment between the dollars we need and the needs of employers,” he said. “We are trying to connect proactively with the Pence administration to show them a system that’s working and make sure it’s sustained.”

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said no one is going to sit on their hands while waiting for these councils to get down to business. Other bills looking to enhance higher education, training and even preschool are in the works.

“We’ve got arguably almost a million people we need to help right now and the number of people who annually receive training services from federal and state resources is about 50,000 a year,” he said. “This is hard stuff but very important to start somewhere.”

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