INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb set five "big goals" in his January State of the State address for bolstering specific adult education and workforce skills, a challenge he described to Hoosier lawmakers as "the defining issue of the decade."

But, with three weeks left to go in the year, the Republican is poised to fall short on at least two of them.

According to the Governor's Workforce Cabinet, just 14,970 adults with some college credits had re-enrolled by the end of September in programs that put them on course toward eventually completing a post-secondary credential or college degree.

That's about 60 percent of the governor's target to re-enroll this year at least 25,000 of the estimated 700,000 Hoosiers who began college or another accredited post-secondary program but never finished it.

Likewise, as of Nov. 29, state records show there were 26,419 Hoosiers enrolled in adult basic education programs working toward earning a high school diploma or equivalency certificate.

That was less than the 30,000 individuals, out of some 475,000 Indiana residents lacking a high school diploma, that Holcomb said he wanted to help "obtain the education and skills they need to get a better job."

The governor, however, is not dismayed that so far he's failed to hit some of the marks he set for meeting what he called Indiana's "greatest challenge."

"What has set Indiana apart from so many of our counterparts around the country is we set very high standards, we set high goals," Holcomb said.

"The encouraging part is we are seeing positive, forward movement. I'd like to do more, so I'm always going to err on setting a higher standard than maintaining the status quo."

Holcomb said in many parts of the state Hoosiers only now are hearing about his administration's focus on adult education and workforce development, along with the availability of state funds to help people get "skilled up."

"What it's done is it has caught the interest of folks all around the state of Indiana," Holcomb said. "It's also showed us that we have a lot more work to do making sure people are aware of the programs that are out there."

Successes, too

At the same time, Holcomb's three other big goals for workforce development are on track toward being fulfilled, or, in one case, already has been exceeded.

According to Danny Lopez, chairman of the Governor's Workforce Cabinet, more than 450 Hoosier employers this year are participating in the Employer Training Grant program — nearly twice the 250 companies Holcomb had hoped to attract.

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The grant awards state funds of up to $5,000 per employee for companies in "high demand" fields to provide occupational skills training to their new or current workers.

Lopez said Indiana also is on pace to meet the governor's target of doubling participation in formal apprenticeship programs to 25,000 Hoosiers by the end of 2019.

He noted there currently are more than 17,000 active apprenticeships across the state, and a new Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeships is developing "earn and learn" pipelines between students and employers in many of Indiana's 92 counties.

"We all recognize a high school diploma just isn't good enough anymore and striving toward our 2025 statewide goal of 60 percent of Hoosiers having a marketable, high-value credential after high school is going to take even smarter, more targeted investments in our people to ensure no one is left behind," Lopez said.

For Holcomb, that includes the 27,000 convicted felons serving time in Indiana's prisons.

The governor pledged in January that by 2020 at least 1,000 inmates a year will compete certificate programs that "lead to good jobs when they get out."

Lopez said nearly 1,000 incarcerated Hoosiers already are being trained in computer coding, welding and other high demand fields at the Department of Correction, almost two full years ahead of schedule.

"These are great positive trends, no doubt, but we still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals," Lopez said.

'Foot on the gas'

The governor last week revealed that he has no intention of letting up on his agenda to prepare Hoosiers for the high-wage, high-demand jobs of today and tomorrow.

Holcomb said next month he'll ask the Republican-controlled General Assembly to adopt another package of workforce development legislation that, among other things, would double Employer Training Grant funding to $20 million a year.

He also wants all high school students required to complete a one semester course on college and career preparation, to repurpose approximately $150 million in annual career and technical education spending to help more students earn an industry-recognized credential prior to graduation and to improve career counseling for all students at every grade level.

In addition, Holcomb will seek to expand funding and eligibility for the state's Workforce Ready Grant that pays up to two years of community college tuition and fees for students pursuing careers in advanced manufacturing, business and construction, health sciences, information technology or transportation and logistics.

"We have to keep our foot on the gas, the pedal to the metal, to continue to lead," Holcomb said. "This agenda helps us realize those aspirations."

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