SMITH-JONES, NICOLINI & KLITSCH: Middle-skill workforce is high-level priority

February 18, 2017

viewpoint-smithjones-nicolini-carrklitzsch.jpgIndy’s high-tech hot streak continues to be one of our most upbeat economic stories. Information technology projects yielded two-thirds of all job commitments negotiated last year by Develop Indy—Marion County’s economic development agency—while CBRE’s 2016 “Tech Thirty” study ranked us fifth for technology employment gains over the last two years. The New York Times recently took note, writing that “the city has steadily, if quietly, become a center for new technology… .”

But our success goes beyond IT. The Brookings Institution puts Indianapolis among the top 20 major metros in advanced-industry job creation—the most innovative sectors of manufacturing, life sciences and technology that demand workers with science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will soon require more than a high school diploma; three-quarters of all advanced-industry positions already do. To maintain our high-tech momentum, economic development and workforce development go hand-in-hand—it’s a team effort.

The Indy Chamber’s “Accelerate Indy” plan emphasizes the attraction and retention of a skilled workforce, while the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership’s “Ascend Indiana” initiative targets human-capital gaps for advanced industries. TechPoint has built a promising “ecosystem” of fellowships, networking and mentoring programs aimed at IT workers.

But it’s important to erase the perception that our advanced-industry employers are looking for only college-educated STEM professionals or tech-savvy millennials. Roughly half of all advanced-industry jobs are “middle skill,” requiring a two-year degree or technical certificate. In Indianapolis, the majority of all STEM employment falls into this category.

In Marion County, only half our adult population has progressed beyond the 12th grade; more than 170,000 working-age adults have just a high school diploma. Without competitive credentials, their earning power is limited. But a one- or two-year commitment to a vocational STEM program can put them on the fast track to exciting career opportunities that also meet workforce challenges in advanced industries.

Recent surveys show local manufacturers face critical shortages of skilled production workers, trained on the computerized systems that have supplanted traditional assembly lines. Life sciences companies need lab technicians to help validate the life-saving potential of new medicines and diagnostics. Two of Indy’s fastest-growing IT occupations—support specialist and network administrator—don’t require four years of college.

These are good jobs. Brookings estimates that middle-skill advanced-industry workers are paid (on average) 60 percent more than their peers in other sectors (often more than college grads in less-sought-after fields).

Mayor Joe Hogsett has emphasized the connection between employment; economic vitality; and stronger, safer neighborhoods. Helping workers get the skills they need for middle-skill STEM jobs means higher average incomes, fewer households below the poverty line, and upward mobility that filters across whole neighborhoods.

Talent is a supply-and-demand challenge: EmployIndy, CICP, Ivy Tech Community College and other education partners are creating career paths and building our supply of STEM talent across skill levels. Develop Indy and the city of Indianapolis are encouraging cutting-edge companies to invest here, creating more demand for a skilled workforce. It’s a winning equation for workers willing to embrace new learning opportunities, and for employers that want to join one of the nation’s most dynamic advanced-industry economies.•


Smith-Jones is deputy mayor for economic development for the city of Indianapolis. Nicolini is vice president of Indianapolis economic development for the Indy Chamber. Carr Klitzsch is president and CEO of EmployIndy.

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