Manufacturers want Indiana workforce development programs focused on their needs

Brian Burton, president and CEO of the Indiana Manufacturers Association, speaks Thursday outside the Statehouse about the need for an "employer-driven" workforce development system in Indiana. At left is Joe Raver, president and CEO of Hillenbrand, Inc. of Batesville, Indiana.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier manufacturing companies want more say in how Indiana annually spends approximately $1 billion in state and federal funds on workforce development.

Brian Burton, president and CEO of the Indiana Manufacturers Association, told reporters Thursday that the state's worker training programs are failing to prepare the next generation of Hoosiers to meet the specific needs of Indiana businesses, particularly high-tech manufacturing.

"Education and workforce development policies at the state and national level are not aligned with the real needs of employers," Burton said.

"Without a change in our workforce system in Indiana, we expect that we will not be able to fill 60 percent of the open positions that will occur over the next decade."

He said convincing the Republican-controlled General Assembly to put in place an "employer-driven" workforce development system is the top priority for his organization when the next legislative session begins in January.

"An employer-driven system is to allow employers to direct at least a portion of the dollars that are being spent on workforce," Burton said. "Who knows best than the employers of Indiana what types of skills that they need?

"So we need to get employers involved in the decision process."

He indicated that includes increasing Indiana's Employer Training Grant to "significantly" more than the $5 million approved earlier this year by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The association also wants manufacturers to be able to use the extra money to train their existing employees — not just high school or technical education students.

In addition, the manufacturers group will request lawmakers enact income tax incentives for individuals who move to Indiana to fill high-need jobs, require recipients of state-supported college aid to remain in the state for several years after graduation and encourage schools to promote manufacturing as a quality career choice with the potential for high wages and good benefits.

"We are looking for efficiencies," Burton said. "All of the existing programs need to be measured on their performance and evaluated, eliminate those programs that are not doing what they're supposed to be doing and then redirect those (funds) into programs that actually are making a difference."

That already is the charge of former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo. In July, Holcomb appointed Milo as Indiana's first-ever secretary of career connections and talent.

"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," Holcomb said at the time.

Burton insisted that the interests of the state's manufacturing sector should come first, because it is, by far, the largest component of  Indiana's gross state product and employs more Hoosiers than any other industry.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.