The interim chief executive officer of Bloomington-based Regional Opportunity Initiatives Inc. says the results of three assessments show the importance of providing a skilled work force for key employment sectors in southwest central Indiana. Tina Peterson says the reports indicate companies are having a difficult time attracting and retaining top talent in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and defense.

Peterson says ROI plans to boost the region's work force through a series of initiatives to be rolled out over the next year. She says the goal is to create pathways between K-12 and post-secondary education and career preparation to give young people the necessary skills to be successful and productive in the work force. 

Peterson says one of the main initiatives is to grow STEM education among young people, starting in elementary school. 

"When you look at the career opportunities that exist today and you think about the opportunities that are just going to become more available, there isn't one that's not going to have some sort of STEM focus," said Peterson. "We also know that jobs are going to change and they're evolving rather rapidly as technology continues to evolve and a STEM background is going to be one that's going to be transferable across many different opportunities for employment and through a lifetime."

ROI is launching an elementary STEM Fellows initiative, in which teachers can increase their competency in teaching STEM. The organization will also offer the Advancing Out-of-School STEM Learning Grant, which will provide $25,000 to local nonprofits to develop new STEM programming for students to take part in outside of the classroom.

ROI will also launch initiatives aimed at improving quality of place issues in southwest central Indiana through a series of grants which will be announced this summer. Peterson says these initiatives will benefit both employers and students.

"I do think it's going to be an equal share. When we look at our region, we know that we're lacking work force but we also know that we have too many kids that are not graduating prepared for the opportunities that exist here," said Peterson. "And just looking at our adult work force here, only 32 percent has post-secondary education so we're going to create opportunities to make education relevant and to prepare young people and adults for the opportunities that exist here."

You can view the full list of education and work force initiatives announced by ROI below. 

The three operational needs assessments can be accessed by clicking the following links: