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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:00 am

GOP focus on Hoosier workforce

Employers would get training grants in one proposal

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – State officials are using a throw-everything-at-it approach to workforce development this session – anchored by a new employer training grant.

House and Senate Republican leaders last week unveiled their approaches while Gov. Eric Holcomb has his own plan – part of which can be accomplished administratively.

That makes workforce development the phrase of the 2018 session even though some of the work will have to wait until next year. 

“It's an issue of all hands on deck,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, of Fort Wayne. “This is an effort from top to bottom ... to get this right.”

It appears the issue will be in two main bills.

The first is House Bill 1002, which will introduce a new worker training grant under the Indiana Economic Development Corp. It will be given to employers rather than employees seeking to enhance their skills.

Although the structure will be put in place, there is no funding until the next budget.

The idea has percolated for several years, but critics say the state will simply be paying businesses to train their own employees.

Stephanie Wells, vice president of workforce development policy for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, said this is the best way to make sure the workforce development system aligns with the market.

She said it will be outcome-based – an employer won't get a grant unless workers gain a credential, get a job or a higher wage.

“We already spend a lot of money training people and we don't look at this as a replacement for that money. This – instead of creating programs and then marketing them to people who are unemployed or underemployed – will go directly through the employer,” Wells said.

She added that the program will ensure a better value for money already being spent by the state if the employers are determining the skills requiring focus.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said in conjunction with this approach is a sunset – or planned elimination – of all workforce programs starting July 1, 2019. This forces lawmakers to review how more than $1 billion is being spent in various agencies and programs and decide which to keep or replace.

The money will also be more directly tied to corporate income tax as well. Just as the state recently directed all sales tax on gasoline go to roads, the bill would require all corporate income taxes collected – about $650 million a year – go into a training grant fund to pay for various programs.

“We are just prioritizing” Bosma said.

Another part of the bill is pretty prescriptive – requiring the Department of Workforce Development to assign at least two employees at each one-stop work center to work with school counselors on skills needed by businesses and opportunities available for students.

Senate Bill 50 also will play a role, though it hasn't yet been made available to the public.

Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, said the bill will allow students who aren't financially independent from their parents to receive Frank O'Bannon and 21st Century Scholar funds to get workforce certificates or credentials.

And it will look at new career counseling options for students as well as an employee relocation tax credit to try and attract talent to Indiana.

Wells said there are talks of creating a new commission focusing on career and technical education.

Holcomb used his State of the State Address to set specific measures for the future.

For instance, more than 700,000 Hoosiers have started college at some point without finishing. The governor wants to enroll 25,000 of them in programs to help them do that.

Another 475,000 Hoosier adults don't have a high school diploma. His goal is to help 30,000 of them obtain the education and skills they need to get a better job.

Holcomb also promised to establish a state work-based learning and apprenticeship office that will increase the number of these opportunities from 12,500 to 25,000 by the end of 2019, moving Indiana into the top five in the country.

He also created an Education to Career Pathways Cabinet to set the framework to guide regions and communities.

“By next year, we must be armed with the framework to drive legislative action, including funding changes,” Holcomb said. “But now, lawmakers, we need your support to position this cabinet for success to ensure our school-age Hoosiers are gaining the experiences and skills they need to thrive in our ever-changing global economy.

“This new approach will take the process away from compliance and regulation and instead focus on local capacity-building, empowering Hoosiers at the local level.”

nkelly@jg.net