Holcomb lays out plan to ‘skill up’ thousands of Hoosier workers

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he wants to re-enroll 25,000 college dropouts in school, double the number of state apprenticeships and help 30,000 Hoosiers obtain a high school diploma and a better job—all this year.

Those were among five benchmarks the Republican governor outlined in his second State of the State address, which he delivered Tuesday night to a joint session of the Indiana House and Senate.

The goal is to address a worker shortage, which Holcomb described as "85,000 jobs in Indiana unfilled because employers can't find the people equipped with the skills they need." And it's a problem he said will get worse as economic development add more jobs.

As a result, Holcomb said his focus for 2018 "can be summed up in three words: people, people, people."

“We have the resources to begin to crack this code, and we’re going to put them to work for every student and worker in our state who wants to get ahead,” he said.

Holcomb's goals are:

  • Enrolling 25,000 of the more than 700,000 people who have started college but quit at some point in a college program this year.
  • Help 30,000 of the 475,000 adults who don’t have a high school diploma obtain one and get a better job this year.
  • Increase the number of state work-based learning and apprenticeships from 12,500 to 25,000 by the end of 2019.
  • Engage 250 companies this year to train and hire employees through a previously announced employer training grant program
  • Help at least 1,000 of the 25,000 inmates in Indiana prisons graduate annually by 2020 in certificate programs that will lead to jobs.

“Add this all up, and we’re talking about more than one million of our fellow Hoosiers that need and can be skilled up,” Holcomb said. “Let’s give them the tools they need to reach their full potential. Think of the value for them, your communities and for our state.”

The programs and processes associated with Holcomb's goals have generally been under way. But the specificity of the goals for 2018 is new.

Take the goal of re-enrolling Hoosiers who have earned some college credits but dropped out of school before earning a degree. In 2016, the state set a long-term goal of helping 200,000 of those adults earn degrees by 2020. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education worked with universities to target students via direct mail or other communications and provide incentives for returning to school.

Since the "You Can. Go Back.” initiative launched in 2016, more than 13,000 people contacted by the state have re-enrolled in college, state officials said Tuesday. That's about 6.5 percent of the larger goal.

Now Holcomb wants to add 25,000 more adults to the total—by the end of this year.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Holcomb’s speech showed he cared about “education for all, including those who have fallen through the cracks.”

And House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, praised Holcomb for being “very specific” about his workforce goals. 

“He and we and you will be able to look back and ask: 'Were they able to get done what they said they were going to do?'" Bosma said. "I thought that was bold and accountable, and we’ll try to help him achieve it.”

Bosma said it's too early to say whether the benchmarks Holcomb picked were the “right number or wrong number” but that it was “bold to pick any number.”

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said after the speech that the goals were “spot on."

“Time will tell whether they’re attainable, but we think they’re reasonable and goals we should be striving for,” Brinegar said.

However, the Legislature's Democratic leaders were not impressed.

"I think he goals were fine," said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

But, he added, "I didn’t hear the pathway to get there. I didn’t hear the clear plan on how we accomplish each one of those goals.”

House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said the governor was “late to the game” on solving the state’s workforce challenges.

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