VALPARAISO — While serving aboard a guided missile destroyer, Blair Milo faced the challenge of getting the ship’s sonar system to do its job. The solution was a new system baseline upgrade. The challenge was how to do it.
As a member of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s cabinet, Milo faces a similar challenge — connecting Hoosiers with training and skills to earn good-paying jobs.
“We need a system to connect workers with opportunities,” Milo said. “We need to close the current workforce gap.”
Returning Friday to Northwest Indiana, the former LaPorte mayor presented a workshop on building a 21st century workforce at the Porter County Community Foundation building. The Northwest Indiana Workforce Board sponsored the morning session which drew employers, educators and other business people.
Milo received a number of comments on opportunities and challenges facing Northwest Indiana.
Heather Ennis, of the Northwest Indiana Forum, praised local education leaders who are dedicated to preparing students for the future. Aco Sikoski, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College’s Valparaiso campus, said campus officials are working with seven school superintendents about early college programs.
Doreen Gonzalez-Gaboyan, associate director of workforce engagement for Purdue University West Lafayette, noted how several universities are collaborating on developing career pathways for cyber security professionals.
Several participants cited a challenge with training clashing with work. Kenard Taylor, owner of Valparaiso-based KLT Consulting LLC, said these conflicts force employees to choose between work and study.
“Employers need to be more flexible,” Taylor said.
Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, cited challenges with people unable to pass drug screening tests for employment, as well as young people leaving college early with no degrees or work experience but carrying a heavy school debt.
“So many opportunities, so many people, so many directions. We have to articulate what people can take advantage of,” Milo said. “How do you feed an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Milo was appointed last July as secretary of the newly created Indiana Office of Career Connections and Talent. Her responsibilities include collaborating with employers, unions, educators and public entities to identify employment needs and training opportunities for high-demand, high-paying jobs.
Job areas in high demand, Milo said, include health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, building and construction, information technology and transportation and logistics.
Scanning the overall state’s employment picture, Milo estimated 85,000 jobs statewide, including 1,627 job postings in Porter County, jumping over the next 10 years to 2,636. Additionally, Milo said 60 percent of the jobs that current kindergartners will someday fill don’t exist yet.
“We need to design a system that is regionally driven, to shift to changing needs,” Milo said.
Milo said the state is working on software to connect people with training opportunities, increase opportunities for work-based learning, enhance career navigation support and transition ex-offenders into employment.
Milo stressed that Indiana wants to help local communities develop job systems that work for their particular area. “We want to take a bottom-up approach, not one-size-fits-all,” she said. “We want to help students and adults realize the great job opportunities out there.”