INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb believes that Indiana's largely manufacturing-based economy is in the midst of historic, transformative change.
But despite leading a state where "disruption" sometimes is thought of as a dirty word, the Republican wants Hoosiers to lean in to the change — not fear it.
"In the world in which we find ourselves in today, long-gone are those opportunities that require low education for high, high wages," Holcomb said. "So we have to recognize that and embrace that opportunity."
He told leaders of Indiana's growing technology sector last week that adapting will require realigning the state's education system to ensure students still in elementary school, high school or college graduate with the skills, particularly tech skills, that employers want.
"If you're in kindergarten right now, they've estimated that when you graduate from high school, 60 percent of the jobs don't exist yet," Holcomb said. "We've got to figure out how do we get ahead of the curve."
He said it also means Indiana adults — particularly the 1 million-plus Hoosiers who either began but did not finish a college degree or never graduated from high school — need to "skill up," so they're better prepared to handle the economic changes they've already experienced in their lives or those on the horizon.
"Our job is to make sure that those folks who are displaced have another opportunity — and one that's better than their old one," Holcomb said. "We have to try to replace every job that's lost with two of the future."
Opportunities for people
How exactly Indiana will do that is likely to be determined, in large part, during the 2018 legislative session that begins Jan. 3.
Holcomb in November called on the Republican-controlled General Assembly to begin building the framework of what he described as a "21st century skilled and ready workforce," and then put money behind it during the 2019 budget session.
"We are competing in a global marketplace, and businesses, employers wake up every single day and they think, 'If we are not growing, we are dying,'" Holcomb said.
"If we (in Indiana) are not embracing change, someone else is, and they are going to take the lead, and we will be chasing as long as we can keep up."
The governor's idea is for community and business leaders in the various regions of the state to come together and figure out what skills businesses in their region require, and then shape the relevant education and job training programs to meet those needs.
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They'll be guided by a new Governor's Education to Career Pathways Cabinet led by former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo, now Indiana's secretary of career connections and talent, who is charged with breaking down the walls separating education and workforce development.
"This is about getting the resources not just to communities or business, but getting the resources to people," Holcomb said. "That's why I think going from the bottom and working its way up will be much more effective than the top down."
He also said the need to increase employee skills never has been more urgent, as Indiana basically is at full employment and Hoosier businesses are struggling to grow without a ready supply of talented new workers.
"It's a highly competitive market to find skilled labor, no matter what sector you're in. We have 92,000 unfilled jobs right now," Holcomb said. "More opportunities for business mean more opportunities for people.
"We want to bring all those folks together that have a concern to fill these jobs and make sure we're methodically approaching this so we're connecting people, not just to opportunity, but to their future."
Holcomb said he is not aware of any state or country that has yet found a way to crack the skills gap or the workforce shortage code.
Nevertheless, he's optimistic that Indiana's geographic location at the "Crossroads of America," and its historic pioneering spirit together provide unparalleled prospects for Hoosiers.
"It's a target-rich environment," Holcomb said. "There's so much opportunity here to be connected with Silicon Valley, to be connected with the east coast and to be connected to the south."
He admitted the effort only is just beginning, since right now there still are many overlapping education and skills training opportunities, confusing points of entry and funding streams that don't always support the most effective programs.
But with Milo leading the way, Holcomb said he's convinced the state can successfully streamline its training programs, as well as get the word out that Indiana is prepared to support those Hoosiers willing to commit themselves to lifelong learning by obtaining the skills that employers need.
"We just want to be a very shiny buckle on what was once referred to as the Rust Belt," he said.