When it comes to core drivers of economic growth, the availability of highly skilled talent in an environment where it can thrive is the greatest predictor of an economy's success. People are the engines that drive growth, innovation, and, ultimately, prosperity.
But whether people can participate in a growing economy depends on their access to education and work experiences that equip them with skills employers need. To remain competitive, Indiana must ensure greater access to, participation in, and completion of postsecondary education, including alternative pathways, such as modern youth apprenticeships. We must also retain more graduates and compete for new talent by investing in safe and vibrant communities people want to call home, whether they grew up in Indiana or become Hoosiers by choice.
Right now, Hoosier students face an uncertain future. Around 25 percent of Hoosier high school graduates complete a two- or four-year degree at an in-state, public postsecondary institution. For students of color, the rates are even lower, with only 11 percent of Black Hoosier students and 16 percent of Latino students completing college at public universities in the state.
The need for skilled talent is anticipated to rise, particularly with the advent of AI and continued automation. By 2027, 70 percent of jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential. Proactive solutions are needed to create more accessible pathways that directly align with employers' needs and are resilient to leadership turnover. This necessitates broad collaboration across education, business, and government.
While a high school diploma is no longer sufficient to provide the skills needed for most to succeed in our modern economy, a traditional college degree is not the only path to success. It is imperative to construct alternative pathways to high-skill, high-wage career opportunities, such as modern youth apprenticeships. Inspired by the Swiss model and studied at length by Hoosier leaders from education, business, government, and philanthropy, youth apprenticeship programs are being piloted across the state in diverse industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services, and technology.
The business community is eager to expand the reach of these programs. Legislative support is essential to ensure high school and postsecondary credit is offered for apprenticeship experience, to involve employers in performance evaluation and academic standard development, to develop appropriate safety and liability standards, and to maintain current levels of school funding by counting apprentices toward average daily matriculation. These policies are vital for expanding work-based pathways to high-skill opportunities for Hoosier students.
Alongside efforts to construct new, experiential pathways to high-skill, high-wage jobs, it remains critical to make traditional college degrees more accessible for Hoosier students. Automatic enrollment of eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars program in 2023 was a move in the right direction. The next step is to allow in-state tuition at Indiana public universities for eligible undocumented students—an important strategy to retain a diverse and fast-growing population that already calls Indiana home.
When it comes to investing in Hoosier communities as talent-magnets, there is no more important place to start than downtown Indianapolis. Downtown's Economic Enhancement District (EED) – supported by the business community, authorized by the General Assembly, and enacted by the Indianapolis City-County Council in 2023 – dedicates sustainable funding toward public safety, cleanliness, homelessness response, and economic growth in the Mile Square. These are important ingredients to a commercial and residential environment that attracts and protects property owners' investments. Downtown belongs to all Hoosiers, and the EED will be critical to supporting its vibrancy for years to come.
The connection between cultivating a skilled workforce and fostering dynamic communities with robust economic development is inextricable and indispensable for Indiana's long-term success. Central Indiana must establish a resilient and adaptable framework to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving economy. Legislative support, strong partnerships, and a shared commitment to Indiana's future growth and competitiveness will be instrumental in achieving these goals.
President & CEO, Indy Chamber
President & CEO, Browning
Chair – Board of Directors, Indy Chamber