In 2013, Governor Pence and the Indiana General Assembly proposed innovative and transformative legislation to address the workforce development issues that are depressing the incomes of Hoosier workers and potentially impeding economic progress in Indiana.  Although the state was spending $650 million in education, training and workforce development, there were at least 30 different programs administered by five state agencies that lacked the coordination and focus needed to maximize the taxpayers’ investment.

With unanimous support the Legislature established the Indiana Career Council to (1) align and coordinate the activities conducted by Indiana’s education, job skills development and career training system and (2) ensure that education and training provided by the system meets the existing and future needs of the state’s employers.

The legislation named the Governor as Chair and the Lt. Governor as Vice Chair of the Career Council which was comprised of twelve members including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Higher Education, Commissioner of Workforce Development, business and labor.   In our early meetings, the experts shared the statistics that would drive our mission.  Most notably, we learned that 65 percent of the new jobs created in Indiana in the next decade would require some post-secondary education, training or certification.  If no action were taken, it is projected that only 41 percent of Hoosiers will meet those career requirements.  

Faced with this reality, the Career Council is implementing a strategic plan that systematically approaches the multiple dimensions of workforce development with data-driven and results-oriented methodologies.   We divided into three task forces focused on system alignment, business sector strategies and pathways to careers, which I am chairing.

Our Pathways Task Force has explored how we can improve the counseling of students and under-trained incumbent workers directed towards careers that meet the current and projected job openings in the 21st century Hoosier economy.  We have examined the full scope of career counseling.  High school counselors tell us that their broad scope of duties in most schools does not leave much time for career discussions.  Plus, we do not educate them well on or expose them to workplaces to see firsthand what employees are actually doing.   Although a few schools are scheduling faculty visits to local employers, the practice is spotty at best.  Even at the college level, many of the conversations with a counselor or advisor are about a student’s major and meeting graduation requirements – not about a career choice.  As parents, teachers and other influencers, we must ask the question early and often, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and help young people understand that a personal passion or interest can become a career.  We must also do what we can to expose them to the wide range of careers available, including those that require post-secondary credentials but not necessarily a college degree; and if they are undecided, then point them to the high-pay, high-demand jobs that we know will be available.

One known highly effective career development tool is the work-and-learn experience that is often called an internship, externship, apprenticeship, job shadowing or co-op education.  The research shows that the work/learn experience produces better employees.  A recent Gallup-Purdue University Index Report validated that a graduate with an internship experience is twice a likely to be fully "engaged" in work.  This level of commitment to the career comes from the experiential learning and orientation to the workplace through the internship.  From my personal experience as a co-op engineering student at Purdue, I can affirm how much better prepared I was for my engineering career.  Those five semesters at General Motors allowed me to experience a wide range of experiences as an industrial engineer as well as better appreciate the transferability of the academic work to the real-life profession.

The benefits of a work-and-learn experience are not just for the student.  The host employer is provided an excellent opportunity to "audition" a potential future employee.  They can learn things about the intern that are impossible to discern from a resume or even fully discover in the best interview.  The aptitude for a potential job as well as the soft skills, such as work habits and interpersonal skills can be accurately assessed.

Based on the extraordinary benefits, the Career Council is committed to expanding work-and-learn experiences in Indiana.  We are challenging Indiana employers to provide 10,000 new opportunities in the next two years.  We are grateful for current and new initiatives that support these efforts.  Earlier this year I joined Teresa Lubbers, the Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education, to launch her "Career Ready" campaign to encourage business to create internships in the scope of college career.  The Indiana Chamber of Commerce operates the very successful INTERNnet online internship program which all Hoosier employers may use free of charge to source students interested in work and learn experiences.  Two very successful programs include  Techpoint’s Extern Program focused on the technology sector and the Conexus HIRE program which provides internships for logistics and advanced manufacturing utilizing an innovative CTE curriculum grant announced by Governor Pence last summer with support from the General Assembly and area employers offering matching funds. 

Great progress, but we need even more employers, in diverse industries large and smaller, to consider offering work-and-learn experiences.  To answer legal questions and practical administrative issues, the Career Council has prepared "A Guide to Talent Attraction and Development for Indiana Employers."  <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
By providing work-and-learn experiences, Indiana employers are making an investment in their own futures and the economic future of Indiana.                

Sue Ellspermann is Lieutenant Governor of Indiana.

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