Gov. Eric Holcomb, in announcing his 2018 legislative agenda this month, correctly identified the biggest challenge facing Indiana’s economic future. And the future of many Hoosiers.
Far too many workers and potential workers aren’t prepared to take better advantage of a surging state and national economy.
Many of them lack the degrees or certifications needed to qualify for jobs on the higher rungs of the salary ladder.
Others must overcome criminal records or addictions that block them from jobs. And some simply aren’t aware of or lack the confidence to pursue better opportunities.
Indiana employers, Holcomb said, have identified more than 90,000 current job openings they can’t fill because of a shortage of qualified applicants. Many of those positions offer better than average pay, benefits and working conditions.
The gap between employers’ needs and workers’ skills is a major reason why wages have not grown at a faster pace.
The reality is that many workers in Indiana are stuck in jobs paying less than $15 an hour because they lack the qualifications to advance to better positions.
It’s not a new problem. Per capita incomes in Indiana began trailing the national average in the 1960s as the state’s manufacturing base started to erode. State leaders finally started to address the problem nearly two decades ago.
Creation of a community college system; a focus on growing the tech, life science and logistics sectors; and a renewed emphasis on vocational training in high schools have helped.
But the need for a more educated, better trained workforce in Indiana is more critical than ever.
That’s true in the short term. Employers aren’t likely to continue to expand or relocate to Indiana if they can’t find qualified workers.
But there’s an even bigger challenge on the near horizon. Automation and artificial intelligence may well erase many existing jobs, especially those that require only lower-level skills.
A hint of what lies ahead can be found in Holcomb’s legislative agenda.
He wants to begin testing self-driving vehicles on the state’s roads. When, not if, those vehicles arrive in large numbers, they could displace many drivers and delivery people.
Automation also is likely to continue sweeping through manufacturing and could significantly disrupt the logistics and service sectors.
Hoosiers, in short, must be prepared for expansive, ongoing changes in how and where they do their jobs. And Holcomb is right
that the state has a vital role in helping to ensure that more workers are ready to thrive on the job.
Their future, and our state’s future, depends on it.