News Column

Job-seekers Need to Bridge Skills Gap

August 30, 2013

With a current unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, Indiana has no shortage of people who are looking for jobs. The hitch, says the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's leader, is that many of these job seekers lack the skills and training required for the jobs that are available.

"We have a lot of people in this state who lack minimum basic skills," said Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive officer of the statewide pro-business organization.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon meeting in Evansville to discuss the scope of the problem and what can be done to fix it. About 50 people attended the meeting, held at Vectren's corporate headquarters.

Workforce development is one of four topic areas addressed in the chamber's long-range economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

The meeting was the last of seven similar gatherings that the state Chamber has hosted around the state.

Discussion on the topic was wide-ranging, covering everything from the "skills gap" between job-seekers and available positions to how to get students interested in pursuing careers in the skilled trades.

One issue, Brinegar said, is that Indiana - and the nation in general - doesn't have enough workers qualified to fill positions in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

For every one unemployed Hoosier, Brinegar said, there exist 2.4 STEM jobs that go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.

"By and large, the people unemployed in Indiana don't have the credentials to take and succeed in those jobs," Brinegar said.

Another issue, attendees said, is that too many students, parents and guidance counselors are focused solely on four-year college degrees - a focus that overlooks the many good jobs available that don't require a bachelor's degree.

"There are very fine careers and respectable positions available in the trades," said Ron Christian, Vectren's chief legal officer. Christian is also active with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and helped draft Indiana Vision 2025.

Vectren is facing this reality firsthand, Christian said, because many of its electrical line workers and gas pipeline workers are close to retirement age.

"In the next five years, we think we will lose a substantial number of employees (to retirement)," Christian said.

To prepare for this exodus, Christian said, Vectren has formed partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University to develop training programs; it does outreach at local high schools; and it uses social media outlets as part of its recruitment and hiring strategy.

"I suspect we could do more," Christian said.

Todd Mosby, president and chief executive offi-cer of the Gibson County Economic Development Corp., said his area is facing the same issue.

"This is an issue that is not going anywhere," he said.

Between Jan. 1, 2012, and the end of this year, Mosby said, Gibson County will have seen 1,200 new jobs created, many of them in manufacturing or coal mining.

Vincennes University has worked with local companies to create job-specific training programs in response.

Looking forward, Mosby said another challenge to consider is the shift in young workers' priorities.

Members of the so-called Millennial Generation now entering the workforce, Mosby said, are more likely to select a place they want to live, then find a job within that area.

This is unlike previous generations, Mosby said, who were more likely to move to an area because they had found a job there.

With that dynamic in mind, Mosby said, cities and regions will have to create a quality of life that is appealing to the employees who those areas hope to attract.





Source: Copyright Evansville Courier & Press (IN) 2013


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