Opinion and Viewpoint

Adults critical to closing skills gap

October 5, 2013

BradleyWhile the meaning of the term “the skills gap” might always be debated, a new report finds that middle-skill attainment makes up the real gap for Indiana’s economy. New data makes it clear that Indiana’s skills gap is growing deeper in the middle, and it won’t close without adult solutions.

The new report “Indiana’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs: 2013,” released by the Indiana Institute for Working Families and the National Skills Coalition, confirms a growing gap between the number of middle-skill jobs (those requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year college degree) available and the number of Hoosiers projected to have the skills required to qualify for those jobs. While 54 percent of all jobs in Indiana are classified as middle-skill, only 47 percent of Hoosiers have attained the skills, education and credentials to meet the demand.

Middle-skill jobs are the fastest-growing segment of the skills gap, and will remain essential to Indiana’s economy for years to come. In fact, these jobs account for more than 550,000 job openings in Indiana—half of all openings—through 2020.

Among all job types (low-, middle- and high-skill jobs), only the proportion of middle-skill jobs is projected to grow in Indiana by 2025. Just since 2010, when the last version of the report was released, the number of middle-skill job openings has increased by nearly 63,000 jobs, reinforcing the continuing need to boost middle-skill education and training.

While Indiana’s policymakers have laudably emphasized the skills gap in the past few years, in order to actually close the gap, the state must take measures to address a key neglected factor: adult Hoosier workers whose skill attainment has left them behind in the post-recession economy.

More than three-quarters of Indiana’s work force of 2020 was already adults in 2010, meaning that, despite our best efforts for young Hoosiers coming into the work force, adults must be part of the solution if the state is to meet its education and work force goals and fill the skills gap.

This is especially true for adult Hoosiers currently in low-wage, low-skill jobs, who are unemployed or recently laid off, or who do not yet have the basic math and reading skills to enter a training program.

In order to tackle the middle-skill gap, the Indiana Institute for Working Families and the National Skills Coalition have formed the Indiana Skills2Compete Coalition, whose members compose a bipartisan group of legislators and policymakers, as well as business, labor, education and community stakeholders. The coalition has identified four policy priorities for the coming year to focus on increasing skill attainment for Indiana’s adult workers:

1. Find the most successful ways to increase access to state financial aid for Indiana’s part-time students, so they can complete the education and training they need to be eligible for in-demand jobs.

2. Make sure the state is providing remedial education and adult basic education in the most effective ways, so students are at the right place with the right resources for the right jobs.

3. Maximize on-the-job training resources, so our work force has the best opportunities to continue developing their skills on the job.

4. Promote statewide prior-learning assessments so our adult work force, including veterans and experienced workers, can get credit for what they already know.

These four priorities will advance Indiana’s economy and fill in the deepest part of the skills gap.•

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Bradley is a senior policy analyst with the Indiana Institute for Working Families, a program of the Indiana Community Action Association. The can be found at http://www.incap.org/inSkills-report.html. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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