The skills gap is a continuing source of concern in Elkhart County.
But it’s not the only place, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly on Thursday Feb. 7 said lawmakers are working on a federal initiative to address the problem, the America Works Act.
He recently visited 18 cities across Indiana as part of a four-day tour “and what I heard from everybody was that there are job opportunities available from all the small businesses,” Donnelly, a Democrat from Granger, said in a conference call with Indiana reporters.
However, there aren’t always available workers with the corresponding skill set — here in Elkhart County and across the country, Donnelly said — creating a scenario in which there are jobs, but no one to fill them.
The America Works Act would address that by focusing federal jobs training funds in the sectors where job opportunities predominate. Moreover, it would allow for certification of workers that is accepted and recognized from state to state.
The aim is to make sure “the best skills are in our state, the best employment is in our state, the best education is in our state and we are a place where, when you come, we’ll have the team ready for you,” Donnelly said.
Elkhart County business officials and leaders lament a skills gap — available jobs but no one with the requisite skills to fill them. And the Indiana Youth Institute, citing Ivy Tech Community College figures, estimates there are 50,000 or so jobs statewide that are open due to lack of viable candidates.
Legislation has already been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, said Donnelly, who unsuccessfully pursued such a measure last year when a member of the body. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is spearheading the America Works Act legislation in the Senate.
MEDICAL DEVICE TAX
In other news, Donnelly expressed optimism that lawmakers will repeal the 2.3-percent medical device tax. Part of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care overhaul, the tax went into effect on Jan. 1 and critics charge that it has hampered the orthopedic industry in northern Indiana.
“I think the prospects are stronger now than they have ever been,” said Donnelly.
A measure is pending in the House, H.R. 523, backed by U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart. Donnelly said Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are working on a Senate version.
“We see this moving forward, and it is on everybody’s radar at this time where as before not everybody may have understood,” Donnelly said. The measure is “really picking up steam.”
Donnelly awaits a formal immigration reform proposal before sounding off on the matter. A bipartisan group of eight senators last week announced the general outlines of a reform plan that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.