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.