ELKHART — Northern Indiana has some hurdles to overcome to position its workforce and industry to take advantage of the future, but there are already significant efforts under way to address those problems.
That’s the essence of a report commissioned by the Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG) in response to business concerns about gaps between open jobs and unemployed workers who don’t qualify for those jobs.
The Talent Roadmap for Northern Indiana, put together by an Indianapolis firm, “reinforced many of the trends that our region has faced. I think it’s more positive that what we anticipated,” said Shawn Peterson, president of CPEG, a regional group. The report showed that in Elkhart and four other counties, “It’s not as large of a skill gap in some ways. In some ways, though, we do have things we can work on and address,” Peterson said.
One thing that pleased Peterson is that the employers, educators and workforce-development professionals in the region are already working hard to address many of the key problems.
Some of the information in the report paints a bleak picture for 21st-century job growth:
Only 30 percent of adults in the area of an associate’s degree or higher, lower than the state average and much lower than the national average.
More than half of adults in the region have no more than a high-school education.
Failing to graduate or get a GED doubles your chance of poverty compared to high school graduates, and makes you 5 1/2 times more likely to be poor than someone with a bachelor’s degree.
Failing to graduate made people nearly six times more likely to be unemployed during the recent recession than people with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
This region fares worse than other parts of Indiana at the number of people completing a higher education, especially when taking Notre Dame out of the picture, since not many ND graduates stick around.
This region’s population is aging, with more people approaching or reaching retirement age, and fewer people ages 25-34, and employers report a hard time recruiting professionals.
Employers and educators often aren’t speaking the same language when talking about what jobs actually entail.
The report issues four specific solutions, along with examples of how those solutions have been implemented elsewhere:
Implement the use of WorkKeys Job Profiling, already done through WorkOne, and expand its use by employment agencies, educators, employers and potential employees, and also start using certifications from professional organizations.
Develop internship and fellowship programs, run awareness campaigns and focus on bringing in young and international professionals, including creating ways to help their spouses find jobs.
Educate people about the advanced manufacturing done here and the skills required, make wider local recruitment efforts and conduct a regional wage and salary survey to make sure businesses are competitive within the region and the region is competitive within industries.
Expand education efforts in project-based learning, career and technical education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
WHAT IT DOESN’T ADDRESS
One key area that was acknowledged in the report, but not addressed, is a complaint aired by employers to the study’s authors and to The Elkhart Truth in discussions about the workforce. As the study puts it, “results from the survey of regional employers, validated by focus group discussions with employers in manufacturing, also brought to light additional challenges to hiring locally, including inability to pass a drug test and overall unreliability of workers.”
These issues aren’t unique, the report continues. “We acknowledge that these social challenges are a problem for northern Indiana, but analyzing them in detail is beyond the scope of the Talent Roadmap for Northern Indiana,” the report said.
Peterson said, “I think what the report was saying is that it’s outside the scope to look at a drug rehabilitation program within this. If other efforts still don’t produce, I think there’s a framework to go back and look in more detail at how that would work.
“Some issues are very hard to address, so you want to go to what brings the most numbers early on. A potential options to expand the workforce was looking at having individuals transition from situational poverty back into the workplace. That would require partnership with other organizations to do that. The same framework would probably look at the drug issue if it’s determined that some of these other efforts that are put together are still not sufficient,” Peterson said.
In terms of unreliable workers, Peterson said a large number of educators and workforce-development groups are already responding to employer concerns and focusing on those skills.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
“This provides us an overview and framework,” Peterson said. “There are some issues that require additional study and surveying of companies or employers, professionals, to move forward. I think what this provides is a broad spectrum between some short-term issues we can discuss and tackle together, and then there are some long-term issues that require more thought and community input to move forward.”
The report lays out how other communities have addressed the same issues. “This is providing recommendations based upon national, state and even regional models that have been put in place. It’s up to the community to actually develop the initiatives that work best for the region,” Peterson said.
Instead of exact plans, “it provides a roadmap and a launching place for discussion of things we can actually accomplish,” he said.
“Industry looks at the talent and workforce from a regional perspective. As we transition to a 21st century economy, being responsive as a community to address those needs is really what industry is looking for,” Peterson said. “They understand there’s no overnight solutions, but they do want to see that they’re being heard and positive action is being taken. I think this report reflects that the ball is moving and there is momentum to take positive action.”
In a written announcement of the study, Jessica Borza of authors Thomas P. Miller and Associates said, “Northern Indiana is not alone in its pursuit of talent. Communities across the country, specifically the Midwest, are looking at their talent pipeline and challenging businesses, education, economic development and workforce development to work together and take actionable steps that deliver results.”