Closing the (Middle) Skills Gap

Legislative Updates Archive

It’s a matter of fact: jobs in many of the nation’s most thriving industries are being left unfilled due to lack of skilled workers. As today’s workforce ages towards retirement and educational models in our high schools and beyond shift, the skills gap in these industries continues to widen. Not just in emerging high-tech industries like health, information technology and others, this gap is felt in other more traditional industries and what is commonly referred to as the “middle skills” sector. 

During the 2014 legislative session, Indiana legislators and Governor Mike Pence came together to address the growing skills gap happening across the Hoosier state. Indiana is not alone; the lack of skilled workers in industries including advanced manufacturing, logistics and construction is a mounting problem throughout the nation. According to recent statistics, some 69 million Americans work in middle-skills jobs which typically require some sort of postsecondary education. The problem is real and has spurred the need for swift action to help ensure a stable, trained workforce for these industries for years to come.

Let’s take construction labor for example. According to Top Notch Indiana, the state’s largest labor-management consortium representing the union construction industry, some 7.2 million Americans are employed by the construction industry annually with the average age of this workforce at approximately 47 years old. With projected growth by 19 percent over the next four years, the need for more highly skilled workers is now and will continue to intensify (and backfill the high number of retirees).

In an effort to strengthen growth in this skilled labor pool and ensure the workforce meets the needs of the expanding industry, state leaders have generated a renewed focus on the need for vocational training as a post-secondary educational option in Indiana. This includes:

  • Generating a renewed focus on the need for vocational training as a post-secondary educational option across the state
  • Increasing funding for vocational programs in Indiana high schools
  • Implementing demand-driven curriculum in high schools that is directly tied to employers in industries most impacted by skills gap
  • Supporting educational opportunities and training outside the traditional college model

We at the Indy Chamber have and will continue to partner with organizations like Top Notch Indiana and state and local leaders to support programs that strengthen our workforce and boost our economic stability. Programs in our high schools, vocational schools and universities must mirror the diversity of our thriving industries so that we may produce a sustainable workforce.

The Indiana Union Construction Industry Apprenticeship Program is doing just that. With a focus on trades ranging from carpenters, iron workers, electricians and more, this program is providing training opportunities for skilled laborers that mimic the needs of the industries they are entering. Through direct partnership with industry professionals, apprentices work full time jobs while in training, earning an income and graduating from the program with an associate’s degree from Ivy Tech, all with no student debt.

Workforce development is a vital component of economic development efforts throughout the country and the world. As the need intensifies for new models and increased training, we as a business community must work together with our state and local leaders to find ways to meet the needs of our industries or be left behind.

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