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Janet Boston - 10/15/2015

“The No. 1 priority for Indiana must be a re-evaluation and reinvestment in our people, their knowledge and skills.”

This statement from the Indiana Chamber’s June 2015 Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, along with the data, reinforces the urgency of the state’s workforce development goals. According to the Report Card, while there have been gains over the past several years, there are specific areas of concern in terms of Indiana’s talent pipeline:

  • Postsecondary attainment continues to lag with national ranks of 45th in associate degrees and 42nd in bachelor degrees.
  • Nearly 12% of Indiana’s population has less than a high school diploma.
  • Only 3.36% of Hoosier workers are employed in STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations, confirming the qualitative and anecdotal insights of business leaders who are suffering through a “skills gap.”

State workforce development initiatives focusing on college completion, career pathways and skills development are critical. The Indiana Career Council, led by Governor Mike Pence and Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann, released its strategic plan in 2014 to guide state workforce development efforts. The goal is that at least 60% of Indiana’s workforce will have post-secondary skills and credentials by 2025.

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers presented a plan to achieve the goal at the E2E Convergence in June, hosted by Indiana University in partnership with TechPoint and with support from the Lilly Endowment. To reach 60%, Lubbers shared with the group of state leaders and stakeholders that the full ecosystem of partners will need to work together.

It will take statewide organizations convening the right people to identify problems and solutions. It will take the industry sector defining career pathways and skills demands. It will take regional groups implementing strategies tailored to their specific needs. Finally, it will take local and school partnerships to get students on the track to college and career success.

Objective 4 of the Indiana Career Council’s strategic plan specifically calls for the elevation of the importance of work-and-learn models. State leadership also has set a goal of increasing the number of internships available to Hoosiers by 10,000.

Work-and-learn opportunities serve as significant stepping stones in career paths and allow students to supplement their classroom knowledge with real-world work experience. Indiana INTERNnet is the catalyst for expanding the creation and use of experiential learning as a key strategy in retaining Indiana's top talent. It’s helping the state achieve the goal of 10,000 internships by providing a web site that connects interns with Indiana employers and offering resources and personal assistance to employers that are building or strengthening their internship programs.

Indiana INTERNnet also partners with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education on its Employment Aid Readiness Network (EARN) Indiana program. Employers with an approved internship may receive state matching funds by hiring students – eligible to receive state financial aid – for resume-building, experiential, paid opportunities. Internships are part of the solution for increasing Indiana’s ranking in these important workforce strength indicators and developing the talent demanded by local employers.

A timely industry example: By 2018, Indiana’s growing economy will have demand for 123,000 STEM-related jobs. Yet questions linger as to whether the state can produce enough qualified workers to fill these positions. As a result, an urgent need exists to bridge the gap between higher education experiences and employment opportunities for Indiana to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Again, internships are part of the equation.

“What’s great about an internship in the technology industry specifically is that a student can develop their skills immensely over just a 12-week period from theories learned in school to application in a real-world job setting,” remarks Brittney Baxter, manager of global student programs with Interactive Intelligence. “We see interns who grow so much from hands-on experience. It’s truly invaluable.”

Career-based experience is desired across all industries. Not only is it a necessary component of each individual’s career pathway, but a more skilled workforce is critical for the success of Indiana.