Report: Lack of tech-savvy workforce could leave Indiana in ‘digital dust’ | news

INDIANAPOLIS — Declining college enrollments. More people sit outside the labor force. Fewer Hoosiers with high school diplomas and more students with little practical skills.

These are just a few of the problems Indiana could leave in the “digital dust” if left unresolved.

That’s according to a new study released Friday by the governor’s workforce cabinet, which details how to meet these challenges and support Indiana employers, many of whom now need workers with strong digital skills.

The report comes as the state was already facing significant workforce challenges before the COVID-19 pandemic, including lagging wages, a tight labor market, falling education rates and an aging population.

“The pandemic set in, wreaking havoc on an already confusing and overstretched workforce system,” the study said.

Faced with labor shortages, many employers accelerated the development of digital technologies to strengthen production and processes and stay efficient. According to the report, few Hoosiers are willing to take on these new jobs.

The report suggests partially overcoming these challenges by rethinking Indiana’s education and encouraging workers and students to acquire skills that are in high demand by employers.

These include incentives for colleges based on the number of graduates with high-demand degrees, such as computer science, math, technology and engineering, to fill jobs most needed by the state’s current and future businesses.

The cabinet also recommends offering financial incentives to high school students who take dual-credit courses or receive training in areas in demand by employers. Students would receive college money and schools would also be rewarded with grants.

Preparing the workforce for a digital future is more important in Indiana than anywhere else in the US

Nearly a third of Indiana’s jobs are now highly susceptible to automation, which is the highest percentage in the country, according to research conducted for the state by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank

Employers will replace these jobs with a mix of technology and a more skilled workforce, the report explains.

“The world is changing overnight, and Indiana needs to accelerate its digital evolution to thrive,” the study said. “Indiana’s key to success is proactive, assertive government leadership on digital economy issues.”

One important step the state can take, the report says, is to connect employers and employees through the creation of the Indiana Talent Agency — a “one-stop nationwide service” designed to help build a development and talent pipeline for key industries create.

The agency would connect employers with education and training providers to identify opportunities for high-demand, high-wage workers.

Some of those workers will need to come from abroad, or even from abroad, to increase the state’s workforce as population growth slows, the study argues. In 2021, Indiana saw its slowest annual population increase since 2015, according to the Indiana Business Research Center.

To close the labor force gap, the cabinet encouraged state leaders to lobby in Congress for employment-based immigration reform to help Indiana compete in the global economy.

“Indiana will need to supplement its workforce with net domestic migration and employment-based foreign immigration as birth rates decline and Indiana’s baby boomers retire,” the report said.

Key recommendations also include removing barriers that keep local residents from gaining employment or make it difficult to develop the types of skills employers need.

This includes making it easier for people with misdemeanor to have their charges permanently removed from their record. Eliminating a misdemeanor can be expensive, but if charges remain it can affect chances of an interview, recall and permanent employment, the report said.

The cabinet also supports automatically enrolling all financially eligible students in the 21st Century Scholars program to ensure they receive financial aid and requiring high school seniors to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before graduation.

The report comes ahead of the 2023 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly, which begins Jan. 10, and its recommendations will be considered by Legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Ryan Kitchell, chairman of the governor’s workforce cabinet, called the group’s solutions “bold” but necessary to match employers with the workforce they need.

If that doesn’t happen soon, it could spell disaster for the state’s economy.

“Indiana is at a critical moment,” the report said. “The world around us is changing. Doing more of the same will not do Hoosiers any good. Indiana needs to focus time, resources and effort and act quickly.”