Concerned About Skills in Indiana

Report from America Yesterday, I had the pleasure to participate in an economic forecasting forum in South Bend Indiana put on by the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board. During the event, which was moderated by Terry Savage of the Chicago Sun Times, the other economists and I not only talked amongst ourselves but also responded to questions from an audience of about 300-400.

More than any other topic, the issue of skills and education came up again and again. What skills are manufacturers looking for? How does our educational system stack up internationally? Are we producing enough engineers and scientists? What will happen to those who lack the skills required in the ever-changing workforce? The topic of skills and education was on the mind of the audience.

Which should not be a surprise. You see, 28 percent of Indiana’s economy is manufacturing, making it the most industrial-intense state in the nation. Indiana manufacturing is very diverse, including sizable shares of transportation products, chemicals, primary/fabricated metals, medial equipment and machinery. After falling by 9% in 2001, Indiana manufacturing has averaged 5% growth in the following 3 years, an has accounted for 50% (half) of the state’s economic growth since the end of the recession.

As the most recent Manufacturing Week Survey shows, manufacturers are now in the mood to hire. However, half of them who are looking to hire can’t find qualified candidates to fill an opening. This brings us back to education. It seems clear that there is a disconnect between what high schools and 2 year colleges are teaching, and what skills industry needs in today’s economy. The longer we let this skills gap expand, the larger the problem will become. Its time for policy makers at the state, local and national levels to come together with industry to make sure that the U.S. education system is better aligned with the job market of today and tomorrow.

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  • Jennifer says:

    In our company’s experience, the real disconnect starts at the school counselor level.

    Our company tried to partner with three area high schools to arrange a work fair/presentation for students who were NOT planning on vocational or college after high school. We wanted a chance to talk to the soon to-be-graduates about the benefits of manufacturing, address cultural and media bais against manufacturing as a career choice, and in short let them know about our training programs, benefits packages, etc. as they headed out into the real world. Please note: we did not want to with our siren song lure would be doctors down the notorious path of manufacturing. We wanted a chance to talk to students who were ending their school room educational careers at the high school steps the day after graduation.

    We crashed into a complete BRICK wall. None of the three high schools contacted were willing to participate in such a program. After much discussion with the “powers that be” about WHY… we were finally given the real answer. Let me tell you… it took a lot to get the REAL answer: THE GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS WERE TOTALLY OPPOSED. Give you one guess why! Well, manufacturing jobs are dead-end career paths, and no one in a “school” should ever bring up the “M” word as a legitimate option.

    Even though, the schools we were talking to have 15% of the graduating class historically that does not go on to any sort of higher education (stats they gave to us).

    For schools to address the needs of and skills required by manufacturers, they first have to give a you-know-what about manufacturing in the first place!

    p.s. We are certain there are cases out there of schools, counselors, school districts, etc. that are more cooperative with manufacturing. We have not been able to find one.