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Region workforce touted as productive, ready to work as workplace evolves

Center of Workforce Innovations Chief Executive Officer Linda Woloshansky deliver her State of the Workforce address.

Northwest Indiana's workforce is productive, diverse and educated, and must be resilient in the face of automation and technological change, Center of Workforce Innovations President and CEO Linda Woloshansky said Wednesday.

Woloshansky delivered the biennial State of the Workforce address to a business crowd at Avalon Manor in Hobart. She encouraged people to be lifelong learners to stay relevant in a changing job market.

"Our regional economy is slowly changing due to the changing nature of jobs and the skills needed for those jobs. This is occurring largely due to technology," she said. "Technology has been known to serve as a disruptor that creates, modifies and eliminates jobs. Jobs and their relevant skill sets are constantly changing. Suddenly we are placed in a position of needing to create skills for jobs that don't yet exist in Northwest Indiana as we compete with other regions for such jobs in the emerging economy."

Woloshansky stressed that human talent was the biggest driver of economic development and that a high-quality workforce would be essential to moving Northwest Indiana's economy into the future.

The Region's workforce has many advantages, she said, such as that it's filled with producers who understand how to manufacture products and is more ethnically diverse than the state of Indiana, giving it an advantage in a global marketplace. Northwest Indiana also boasts a higher high school graduation rate than both the state and nation.

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"We are starting to see more of our high school graduates going directly to our regional campuses to achieve credentials enabling them to move into our local workforce," Woloshansky said. "We are the largest producers of high school work certifications in the state. We graduate from high school ready to work."

But Northwest Indiana does need to work on post-secondary education, said Shaun Sahlhoff, a planner with the Center of Workforce Innovations. Only about 38 percent of Northwest Indiana residents have attained degrees past high school, short of a goal of 60 percent by 2025, at a time when higher education will become increasingly in demand for skilled jobs, he said.

The Region's population also declined by an estimated 0.6 percent between 2009 and 2017, shrinking the supply of labor. Sahlhoff said employers will have to look at ways to address potential worker shortages, including more automation, recruiting from across the tri-state region and retaining retirement-age workers for part-time roles.

Workers and employers must prepare for the changes technology and artificial intelligence will bring, Woloshansky said.

"We have incredible resources in our schools and innovation amongst our people that can launch us to succeed beyond our wildest imaginations," she said. "Our success is tied to our own belief system about Northwest Indiana. So let's believe and let's act to make the Region and future we want."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.