Indiana's Workforce is Mission: Critical

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Indiana is ranked the #10 Best Place to Do Business, #4 for Quality of Life, #1 for Regulatory Environment and #2 for Software Job Growth. Indianapolis is ranked #3 for Tech Jobs for Women. We have four of the top 25 Best Places to live in America, with my hometown of Fishers topping the list.

Yet, in spite of these amazing rankings, we have some serious challenges to overcome within our economic development ecosystem, not the least of which is skilling up a workforce to meet demand. For one of our most important data points is where we are failing, as Forbes ranks Indiana 45th nationwide in workforce readiness.

This is embarrassing at best and unacceptable.

A study by the Kauffman Foundation reports that 95% of US companies have fewer than 50 employees, with 20% of gross job creation happening within companies less than 5 years old. This means that NEW businesses, not just small businesses, are fueling economic growth. To a great extent, startup and scaling tech companies are responsible for moving this needle.

There are new job announcements every day in the news. Thanks to transparency, you can go to the IEDC website and research the reports of projected job growth, as many of these new hires are tech positions that do not require a college degree.

45th for workforce readiness.

On the heels of a record breaking year (2017) for the IEDC (driven in large part by tech), the positive trends only add the the growing sense of urgency to remedy our workforce challenges. This momentum is not sustainable unless we address the readiness of our homegrown talent, starting in K-12.

To state it plainly: education is a foundational piece of workforce development.

The strategic plan within entrepreneurial tech companies, especially those in early stage, is one of rapid growth. Many of these companies will not be considered “small” for long IF they can find skilled workers to fill their job postings. Again, many of these jobs do not require a 4 year degree.

So what’s behind our state’s lackluster 45th for workforce ranking?

According to Center for Higher Education (CHE), each year Indiana graduates 70k students from high school with 35% of these young adults not pursuing a college degree. This translates to 24,000 Hoosier students flooding our workforce with only a high school diploma. This population is no longer an education problem, but a workforce problem.

Of those that do attend a 4 year college, 65% drop out. This is a D- on grading scales and overall an F. The dismal stats continue with 35% graduating, 14% actually finding employed within their field of study.

If I experience a fire in my home, highly trained firefighters will arrive to help. If I need a plumber or HVAC professional, a certified, licensed professional arrives at my home.

A quick search on for “software developers” in Indiana pulls up 1000+ listings. If my 17 year old wants to create an online gaming platform that generates a $2B empire, no certification required. In fact, many coders who run major companies are self taught. For starters, we lack a uniform set of trade certifications for the tech industry (cybersecurity, software coding, data analytics, to name a few).

Some organizations like Eleven Fifty Academy, Kenzie Academy, and TechPoint’s IndyXtern program are doing their part to help fill Indiana’s growing tech gap. The job demand on the horizon for tech jobs is astounding.

To date, DWD has lead the charge with their impactful and powerful programs and through strong partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College - which is the largest of its kind in the country (and a 9% graduation rate) — and Vincennes University, are critical to our state’s sustainable economic growth and success. Ivy Tech Community College clearly has its own internal challenges, but their issues are repairable. It’s time for Herculean change across the board - with Workforce Development leading the charge. Education is a strong foundational component of Workforce development, not an arm of the student loan industry.

We need to do more, and it needs to happen sooner than later. Those of us with skin in this game ARE doing more and we are doing it now. We need the state to catch up.

Kara Kavensky is president of Absolutely Consulting Inc.

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