Pence advocates more career training in schools

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence said Tuesday he wants more Indiana students to graduate from high school ready to work and proposed creating regional groups to design alternative curriculums that train high school students for technical and vocational jobs.

But Pence's plan drew a sharp rebuke from a spokesman for Indiana's largest organized labor group, who accused him of trying to reinvent the wheel and add another layer of bureaucracy to workforce development. Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Harris said state's workforce investment boards already coordinate with local leaders, organized labor and Ivy Tech Community College to train workers and place them in jobs.

"There is a system in place controlled by local leadership that Mike Pence is ignoring," said Harris, who used to work at the state's Department of Workforce Development.

The proposal is the first detailed idea from Pence in the governor's race. The congressman is running against Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham to succeed Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is term-limited from seeking re-election in November.

If elected, Pence said he would have regional groups of educators and businesses craft curriculums for students starting in January 2014.

"You bring educators together, you bring business together with local stakeholders and you say, 'Let's figure out what a curriculum would look like if we want to give kids a pathway out of high school and be job ready or be nearly job ready,'" Pence said during at event at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

Gregg called the proposal a good idea but criticized Pence for waiting on "Washington-style committees" rather than acting immediately.

It's unclear exactly how much the proposal would cost or how many jobs are available. However, Pence offered Harrison Steel as an example of an Indiana company in need of workers. He said when he visited the company six months ago, it had 40 vacant positions that would pay between $12 and $15 an hour — or roughly $24,000 to $30,000 a year.

Gary Hobbs, president of BWi Contracting in Indianapolis, joined Pence for the announcement Tuesday. Hobbs said he is usually looking for electricians to lay cable and wire and complete other skilled manual labor.

"I think it would create some opportunity here if the right curriculums were in place at the local high schools next to our business," Hobbs said.

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