Statewide Solutions To The Employment Crisis

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With Indiana consistently hovering near record-low unemployment, it's no surprise employers are struggling mightily to fill all shapes and sizes of positions. And Indiana is not alone. This employment crisis is happening throughout the country.

Companies have been trying to tackle this issue on their own for some time. Whether it’s more and better amenities such as free lunch and unlimited vacation, or covering 100 percent of its employees’ healthcare costs, businesses have gone all-out to find and retain employees.

Some of these efforts have been effective, but not effective enough to solve the problem entirely. The result has been for businesses, government, and social service agencies to work collaboratively in order to address the labor shortage head-on.

In Indianapolis, Mayor Hogsett’s administration has worked closely with EmployIndy and the Indy Chamber to promote a variety of workforce development programs, including Project Indy, Job Ready Indy, and JAG. At the foundation of each of these efforts is what’s referred to as the ABC job continuum: Any job, a Better job, and a Career.

To fill the labor gap in Evansville and surrounding markets, the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana has been using social media to expand the geography of its talent pool by data mining social media profiles and directly marketing to candidates to fill positions. This strategy has been successful in identifying a strong pool of qualified individuals in such faraway areas as Puerto Rico. It creates a pathway from employers in Southwest Indiana to this talent pipeline, helping them fill open positions and integrating new hires into local communities.

In conjunction with various local partners, Advantage Shelby County provides two-year Ivy Tech scholarships to students, enabling these prospective employees to graduate debt-free, provided they commit to remain in Shelby County. This program operates with the dual goals of educational attainment and workforce readiness, simultaneously promoting positive training outcomes while sponsoring the development of a qualified workforce.

In Hendricks County, one solution has been to try to eliminate the need for certain types of jobs. For example, with its heavy concentration of warehouse and related businesses, the county has determined it’s not possible to fill every position that needs to be staffed by an unskilled worker. To combat this problem, the county has utilized a state-sponsored Skill UP Indiana! grant to promote the automation of select positions. This solution helps companies meet their job function demands in technologically advanced ways while freeing up unskilled workers, thereby enabling them to acquire the training needed to pursue better paid, more highly skilled employment opportunities.

Despite these creative approaches, some worry the worker shortage is starting to remove Indiana markets from consideration for marque economic development projects. This concern is especially prevalent in the tech space where companies are struggling to fill senior executive positions. For some time now, companies have employed the stop-gap solution of filling these positions with remote hires or paying a premium to import talent. But many believe this approach is not sustainable, especially for a state trying to expand its workforce capacity.

Luckily, this talent shortage, whether at the senior executive level or entry level, is not unique to Indiana in comparison to its peer states and regions. But as like-sized, like-minded markets up their game, it will be critical for Indiana companies and their governmental and quasi-governmental partners to continually innovate in order to stay competitive now and in the future.

Tim Cook is chief executive officer and Katie Culp is president of KSM Location Advisors.

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