Workforce training programs are in the midst of a transformation that is increasingly tightening the links among employers, schools and job training agencies.
"It is really being driven by jobs that are in demand and will be in the future, and by the specific skill sets required," said Linda Woloshansky, president of the Center of Workforce Innovations.
High schools and colleges are tuning their curriculum to the needs of employers. Academic programs are becoming "more outcome oriented," Woloshansky said.
The days of woodshop and auto shop in high school have been replaced by job-focused coursework like River Forest High School's program in industrial maintenance, Hobart's emergency medical technician program and the energy academy in Michigan City.
The River Forest program is part of a Center of Workforce Innovations initiative called Ready NWI, which has the goal of at least 60 percent of the labor force having "a college degree or high-value post-high school credential aligned with employers' specific needs."
"There are more and more programs of this nature," Woloshansky said. Twenty-eight school districts and eight colleges and universities participate in Ready NWI.
Colleges are also making modifications, both in the focus of their degree programs and in helping people sequence their education and career in "manageable chunks," Woloshansky said.
With the high cost of higher education, more students are going back-and-forth from school to work in a manner that progresses their careers in steps. Students are acquiring "portable and stackable credentials," Woloshansky said, "so you keep building your skill sets."
Better collection of labor market data helps in the effort to align training and jobs. Government and academic efforts in that area are shared with schools.
"They're asking for it," Woloshansky said of schools' desire for data.
State assistance urged
"The investment here in Indiana has been very modest, but is getting a little better," Woloshansky said of the state's role in workforce development.
The state's investments include the Skill Up Indiana! program started last year. It awarded a $427,571 grant to the 22-member Northwest Indiana Manufacturing Consortium to fund classes and training programs.
The grant helped pay for programs in manufacturing and industrial skills, including a certified production technician program, and training in skills like machining and welding through Ivy Tech Community College.
"It's really exciting to see the buy-in of employers and job-seekers," Woloshansky said.
But employer groups hope for more help.
Among them is the Indiana Manufacturers Association, which called the state's workforce development system "unwieldy" in a statement its president and CEO issued early in the current session of the Indiana General Assembly.
"Specifically," Brian Burton wrote, "the state should implement an employer training tax credit whereby employers receive credit for training expenses associated with partnering with Indiana public higher education institutions, high schools, career centers, or other state training providers."
The tax credit could be offset by elimination of other, "inefficient or ineffective," programs, he wrote.
But a workforce development bill considered in the General Assembly this year went to the full House of Representatives without such a credit, instead allocating money to study the issue.
"The time for study of this issue has passed," Burton wrote in a statement after the House Ways and Means Committee eliminated a credit from House Bill 1008. "This is especially true when you consider that Indiana manufacturers, which represent 30 percent of the state's economy, may not be able to fill 60 percent of their open positions in the next decade."
The state is also pushing for more workers to gain occupational certifications in business, health care and other sectors.
"We understand that a two- or four-year degree is not the best fit for everyone, and that many Hoosiers need a shorter-term credential to get ahead," said Teresa Lubbers, commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
The commission recently reported that issuance of certificates has increased 32 percent since 2012. About 70 percent are awarded by Indiana colleges.
They're among the "stackable" credentials Woloshansky talked about. Credits earned in certificate programs can be applied to associate degree programs. A financial aid package called a Workforce Ready Grant is up for consideration at the General Assembly this year.