Factors as diverse as an aging population, the movement of goods, a thirst for knowledge and a worldwide demand for well-made products will be leading drivers of employment in Northwest Indiana in the next 10 years.

The fastest growing, high-wage jobs will be created in fields that fill those needs, which includes nurses, teachers, industrial mechanics, managers, physicians and truck drivers, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs list for Northwest Indiana.

"While our region was founded on manufacturing and the steel industry, the careers of the future are likely to be very different than those of the past," said Micah Pollak, an assistant professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest who tracks the local economy.

Changes in the global economy will determine much of the future demand for workers in the Region, but a population skewing measurably older will have an even more immediate impact.

An aging population in Northwest Indiana is affecting the demand for jobs in two ways, according to Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of the Center of Workforce Innovations.

First, it is creating a need for workers in health care, ranging from physical therapists to surgeons. Second, traditional fields that might have low demand elsewhere are seeing surging demand here because of openings created by retirements.

"The overarching issue is you have a lot of baby boomers who will be retiring," Woloshansky said. "There will be opportunities." 

The Hot 50 Jobs list shows there will be a demand for more than 2,500 registered nurses and more than 1,000 licensed practical and vocational nurses in the next 10 years. Demand in some traditional fields will be just as strong, with a need for more than 1,000 industrial mechanics and almost 1,000 plant and operations managers. And more than 2,500 teachers will be needed, which includes more than 1,000 post-secondary teachers.

Will the workers be ready?

Filling those jobs has become the Region's No. 1 economic challenge, with a coalition of schools, economic development groups, state agencies and nonprofits like the Center of Workforce Innovations working to train the workers of tomorrow.

The Region has made important progress toward identifying future job demand and working to fill it, said Heather Ennis, CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum.

"We're getting there, and I think all institutions are identifying the problem and working toward solutions," Ennis said. "There's some real pockets of excellence around Northwest Indiana, but there's still a lot of work to be done."

Building workers one at a time

Cooperative arrangements between workforce developers and local schools is one key to progress in this area, Woloshansky said.

She points to 82 percent of Region high school students who graduated as college- and career-ready, that is, without a need for remediation, versus a 77 percent state overall average, according to the state's data from 2013.

"We exceeded the state average; we carried the state. Our schools are focusing on the right things," Woloshansky said.

And high school graduation rates in Northwest Indiana increased to greater than 90 percent overall in 2014 as compared to about 83 percent just five years ago, according to a Northwest Indiana Annual Indicators Snapshot prepared by the Center of Workforce Innovations.

College and university enrollment in the Region continues to increase with many more young people also seeking associate degrees in specific subject areas.

"Our universities are focusing on helping the students compete," Woloshansky said.

Skilled job-seekers in driver's seat

Darlene Dulin, a former nurse for 25 years who now serves as department head for health and sciences at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, agrees with Woloshansky on the pressing need for health care workers.

"There will be a huge demand not just for nurses but all those who work with nurses including nursing assistants, phlebotomists, pharmacy techs and anyone who has a part in providing complete care for the patient," Dulin said.

One of the biggest surprises in the job projections the Indiana Department of Workforce Development uses to develop its Hot Jobs list is the need for teachers.

Preschool through high school teachers is the second-most in demand occupation after only registered nurses in Northwest Indiana. Post-secondary teachers is No. 4.

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"There's already a teacher shortage," said Andy Borrelli, a former area elementary school teacher who is now UniServe director for the Indiana State Teachers Association in the Region.

Subject areas with the biggest shortages include science, technology, engineering, math and special education. Reasons range from large numbers of teachers retiring, low salaries offered to beginning teachers and legislators and policymakers placing roadblocks in collective bargaining contracts, he said.

"People are retiring quicker than new teachers are coming out of teacher preparation programs," Borrelli said.

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty

But there will be much more to the jobs picture in Northwest Indiana in coming years than health care and education. There will continue to be demand for jobs in traditional fields like manufacturing and transportation.

"Steelmaking is not going to go away," said Anthony Sindone, a continuing lecturer in economics and finance at Purdue University North Central.

But manufacturing, in the traditional sense of just making a product, will continue to evolve in the future and be more about getting products to market as well as making them unique, Ennis said.

"Advanced manufacturing is more about the process and being efficient, but also being flexible. ... The world is changing more and more quickly, and the company may need to reinvent itself several times to be successful," Ennis said.

There will be a number of jobs related to manufacturing beyond making products. Those jobs include industrial machinery mechanics, general management, sales representatives, maintenance and repair workers, first line supervisors, software developers and machinists.

And getting those manufactured goods to market also will create jobs.

Karen Orosz, school director at Driveco CDL Learning Center, in Gary, said there is a current demand for truck drivers that has a projected growth of 10.3 percent by 2020.

The demand is so great that companies come to her school to recruit those with entry-level driving skills.

Change is inevitable

Pollak, of Indiana University Northwest, believes future careers in the Region will continue to evolve. Manufacturing will have an outsize influence because of higher wages, but its share of jobs will continue to decline.

Since 1970, the percentage of jobs in Northwest Indiana that were in manufacturing has fallen from 41 percent to 11 percent.

"These traditional and desirable careers will likely continue to play an important role in the Region," Pollak said, "but we can no longer rely on them to define us as a Region and we, therefore, need to expand our career base and find a new identity for the future."

"One way to make the Region more attractive to potential workers and to expand our base of jobs at the same time is to improve transportation infrastructure," Pollak added.

There are almost three times as many jobs within one mile of Millennium Station in Chicago than all of Northwest Indiana and they pay on average twice as much, he said.

"For this reason, projects like the expansion of the South Shore Commuter Line into southern Lake County are an important first step in this process," Pollak said.

Ennis agrees that the Region needs to continue to grow its infrastructure.

"We are woefully lacking in rail and public transportation. ... We need to connect the dots. South Shore (commuter rail) is outstanding but not fast enough," Ennis said.

People in the Region also need to continue selling it as a great place to live and work, she said.

"We don't do a good enough job of selling this area," Ennis said.