Central Indiana lacks educated workforce to fill high-skilled jobs, report finds

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Students walk past the newly-completed Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon in the Cox Arboretum during the first day of spring semester classes at Indiana University Bloomington on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Image courtesy of Indiana University)

The gap between the number of high-skilled jobs and trained workers to fill those positions widened during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis of labor market trends in central Indiana.

The report was produced by the not-for-profit Ascend Indiana, the talent and workforce development initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, and EmployIndy, the Workforce Investment Board for Marion County. The findings are the latest to indicate that Indiana employers are struggling to fill jobs due to a talent shortage.

A recent Indiana Chamber of Commerce survey found that three-fourths of Hoosier companies were forced to leave positions open due to a lack of qualified applicants, and a June report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education showed postsecondary enrollment plunged from 65% in 2015 to 53% in 2020.

The latest report found that the pandemic rapidly accelerated the demand for college-educated workers while simultaneously reducing the need for unskilled labor. Factors such as globalization, automation and digitization were cited as reasons for the decline in demand for non-degreed talent in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

“There has been a substantial shift in the projected number of jobs that will be available to individuals with only a high school diploma, and that has really meaningful long-term implications for public health and public safety given that we have a high concentration of individuals with that level of educational attainment in our city,” said Jason Kloth, president and CEO of Ascend Indiana.

The talent gap is most pronounced in Black and Hispanic populations, where students are less likely to complete high school and pursue postsecondary education, the report found. When those students enter the workforce, they are more likely to hold lower paying jobs that are at greater risk of automation.

Jobs forecasted for significant growth in the coming decade include those in the health care industry, clinical sciences, manufacturing, engineering and business management, while demand for administrative assistants, office managers and quality-control technicians is on the downswing.

Kloth said that while obtaining a college degree isn’t the only pathway to financial security, it greatly increases the likelihood that a person will earn a higher wage.

“When we look at job quality there are a lot of different narratives about the value of a bachelor’s degree or the value of additional post-secondary education,” Kloth said. “But the reality is, when we look at forecasts of job growth, there is a very strong correlation between additional education and earning a family-sustaining wage.”

The report also mirrors national data showing that women have not reentered the labor market at the same rate as men since the pandemic, in part due to changes to childcare.

“Women haven’t rebounded not just because of childcare but also because of a sort of reassessment of how they’re going to spend their time in the post-pandemic landscape,” said Marie Mackintosh, president and CEO of Employ Indy.

The report’s authors recommend that employers become more involved in the education system, beginning in middle and high school, to train the employees of the future. It also calls for a comprehensive study and evaluation of certificate programs and for training providers to better measure the impact of those programs.

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9 thoughts on “Central Indiana lacks educated workforce to fill high-skilled jobs, report finds

  1. Good thing that anti-intellectualism is on the rise. Gotta make sure that people don’t have the education to have opinions that contrast what they are told

    1. I guess we could draw from such intellectual hotbeds as San Francisco and Seattle, where the quality of educational attainment is almost as good as the heroin.

      A few years ago, back when I believe reports like this, I was disconsolate about Indiana’s relatively low metrics. As urban areas go, Indy itself is right smack in the middle, if not a bit (tiny bit) above the middle in educational attainment…but the rest of the state is generally so below average that it holds central Indiana back. Still, Hoosierland is looking better and better compared to some stereotypically high-powered places that are awash in dysfunction: all the big-city problems on overdrive, combined with stupidly high cost of living. I mean, there IS a reason why Lake County IN has started growing in population again after a few decades of decline. And it has far more to do with the business climate in that Alpha City next door than it does to any change in the livability of Gary.

      The places that have historically been high-ed magnets are not doing so well, precisely because the ideological rigidity that comes from a college educated and young workforce, and the youngest generation’s presumption that they have nothing else to learn. Perhaps intellectual capital coming from higher ed is a lagging indicator, and before long it will actually be a deficit to hire recent grads because of their tendency to think should already negotiate their salaries and manage up.

  2. This is bad for Indianapolis with an ever increasing black and hispanic population without higher education. Residents need to stress the importance of higher education and strongly urge their children to do so. One recognizes that this may not be easy. And this is not just a role of schools. Parents must take an active role in the education process.

    Central Indiana is not a location immediately attractive to most college graduates. It need not be so. While surrounding counties offer attractive schools and housing, Indianapolis, in particular, needs to seek to attract individuals with higher degrees to settle and invest in the city. Yes, downtown is attractive enough, but the city needs more that sports venue, conventions, and conveniently location dining and drinking establishments. Sound investments in safety, education, infrastructure, and neighborhood is urgently needed. What might be the relationship to those murdered, those committing the murders, and their respective levels of education.

  3. Young people today get such mixed messaging about the value of higher education. They hear tech companies who will hire young people without a degree. They hear about how horrible and one sided universities are these days. They see TikTokkers making millions and Instagram influencers that are successful. And, yes, it’s expensive…too expensive in most cases. But, if they think about the longer term value of education, it will definitely increase options for those young people that choose it. And, in the end, most employers want workers who have a well rounded education that mixes liberal arts learning with some business acumen. Employers want skills beyond a high school education overall. There’s not even a lot of manufacturing organizations that will hire someone without some college experience. While credentialing and certificates can provide some great learning opportunities, I think deeper education can help young learners be better prepared for careers of the future.

  4. Pay more/offer better perks and the talent will appear. It may not be “home grown” but does that really matter? If kids in Indiana don’t understand the value of higher education, that isn’t a problem that companies can fix.

    1. I’d guess the reason it would matter that there isn’t home grown talent is because companies are probably less likely to locate or expand here if they’d need to try to import workers from other areas.

  5. On the day that an IBJ headline states Central Indiana lacks educated workforce to fill high-skilled jobs, report finds “Central Indiana lacks educated workforce to fill high-skilled jobs, report finds” the following headline also runs: “State plans sweeping reduction of standards for K-12 students.” Self fulfilling prophecies.

  6. Lack of affordable child care options is a major reason so many educated women are not returning to work, so why not address THAT? That would help single fathers as well.

    Indiana pretends to be pro-family, but children and their parents are just not a priority with our government and so many businesses – even when lack of child care options keeps highly educated women out of the workforce and limits business success and growth.

    The research is overwhelming that universal pre-school helps children be more successful throughout the rest of their school years. It also would decrease the need for child care, but Indiana doesn’t provide universal pre-school either.

    Indiana’s legislature has increased K-12 academic standards and standardized testing again and again the last 30 years to the point that so many kids and educators have burned out on education. Along with the lack of skilled workers, we have an ever-increasing teacher shortage. And the ‘drill-and-kill’ mentality of HOW to educate kids teaches so many of them to hate school. So why would they want to go on to college? If they can be convinced to attend college anyway, they have difficulty finding jobs in Indiana that pay them enough to repay college loans AND furnish and pay rent for an apartment, let alone buy a home and start a family.

    Indiana has a perfect storm of reasons to explain our brain drain and shortage of workers. The reasons are right in front of us, but they are ignored year after year. If workers can’t make it here, of course they’ll go elsewhere to get a better paying job, affordable child care, and affordable college educations. Parents are not likely to raise their children’s expectations of going to college if parents can’t see a way to afford and fulfill that dream.

    If every worker were very well paid, parents could afford to pay for pre-school, child care, college educations, a home of their own, and more. Without sufficient pay and without businesses and government stepping up to provide what poorly paid parents can’t, the whole state – business, government services, and families – become poorer.

    Offer good pay and benefits, and workers and educators will come, more kids will go to college, and businesses and Indiana will grow. When will we ever learn?