Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Joann Byler, workforce development core educator for Parkview Health, trains a group of patient care technicians on how to discontinue a saline lock at the Parkview Education Center on Lima Road.

  • Rebecca Gurnoe receives some individual attention during a Parkview Education Center training session on Wednesday. 

  • Parkview's Joann Byler helps assure that the hospitals' newly hired patient care technicians receive instruction in skills relative to their scope of practice before interacting with patients.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette New Parkview Health patient care technician Shelby Schubert receives training in how to discontinue a saline lock.

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:00 am

Continuing education

Schools or employers? Implications far-reaching in debate on who's responsible for workplace training

When northeast Indiana's largest employer hires a registered nurse, the new employee doesn't report immediately to a patient unit at Parkview Randallia or an operating room at Parkview Regional Medical Center. The first stop is the new Parkview Education Center on Lima Road, where the first of what will be continual training and professional development for Parkview's 11,000 employees. begins.

All new hires begin with an orientation program “crafted so that people understand our culture, the background of our organization,” said Deb Stam, director of leadership and organizational development at Parkview Health. “We want them to be able to share with people in the community the type of organization that they joined, and understand those behaviors that are important to us as an organization.”

Nurses then participate in “jump-start orientation” – clinical training for both experienced practitioners and newly licensed professionals. 

“The theory behind that orientation is that we understand people come to us with incredible backgrounds and high levels of knowledge – they are registered or certified – but we also have a standard of practice within our organization that is evidence-based and best practice,” Stam said.

The training continues once a nurse arrives at an assigned unit.

“The broad philosophy is we make sure we are bringing the right people into the organization. They are valuable to us, and we want to make sure we do the best we can to prepare them to serve our patients,” Stam said. 

Likewise, employees at General Motors' Fort Wayne Assembly Plant undergo extensive training, according to Stephanie Jentgen, plant communications manager.

“Fort Wayne Assembly provides thousands of hours of training each year to its employees,” she wrote in an email. “There is annual training that is repeated each year, as well as one-time training for a specific purpose. With nearly 4,000 employees, this is a significant investment into our people so they remain safe and provide outstanding quality for our customers.”

All GM employees – hourly, salaried and skilled-trades – go through an orientation process, and hourly workers are trained and evaluated on their proficiency on all operations they are required to know, according to Jentgen.

Those training procedures would distinguish GM, Parkview and other employers with rigorous employee-training programs from those described by an Indiana Chamber official last month. 

“Employers would rather have employees who are ready to work on Day 1, rather than take a significant amount of time and resources to have to train them,” Caryl Auslander, the Chamber's vice president for education and workforce development, told the Indiana State Board of Education. “I hear all the time from my employer-members across the state – we have a serious lack of a skilled workforce.”

“We pay half the taxes and are the end users,” she said of Indiana schools.

Those comments – among a handful supporting a controversial Graduation Pathways proposal – brought a rise out of education board member Steve Yager.

“It kind of concerns me when employers don't want to train someone,” said Yager, retired superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools. “When (school districts) get a teacher straight out of college – with four years of experience in college – and whatever their effort may be, whatever their interests may be, we still have to train them. We have to nurture them and provide them with every bit of education we can after they've come from the universities. I'm not blaming the universities, because we have standards. ... It's our responsibility to train them to get them where they need to be.”

Don't all employers have the same responsibility? he asked.

The sharp exchange between Yager and Auslander represents one volley in a debate over workforce development. Gov. Eric Holcomb has made the issue his top agenda item. The Indiana General Assembly is set to consider a dozen bills implementing his proposals and others. The State Board of Education – over the objections of public school educators on the board – endorsed the workforce-centered Graduation Pathways requirements.

But all Hoosiers deserve a voice. Millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, and the direction of the debate is likely to shape Indiana schools and students for years to come. Is the primary role of our schools to produce workers for Indiana businesses?

Legislative priority

House Enrolled Act 1003, approved last spring, replaced the state's ISTEP+ testing program with ILEARN and the graduation exam with a “graduation pathways” requirement. A 14-member panel – only four of whom were from traditional K-12 schools – began work last summer to develop the Graduation Pathways plan. When the proposal went before the State Board of Education last month, it was met with overwhelming resistance from administrators, teachers and parents. They rightly raised concerns about the cost and administrative load of the requirements, the effect on special education students and how rural districts would meet internship requirements. After hours of testimony, the board voted 7-4 to approve the proposal. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick joined three other members with traditional public school backgrounds in voting no.

Yager points out that the plan, which sets graduation requirements for the 86 percent of Indiana students enrolled in traditional public schools, was developed by a panel dominated by members from fields outside traditional public schools. Auslander was a member, as was Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

“My beef all along was there are not enough practitioners at the table to help guide and provide opportunities for input from teachers and employees who work with boys and girls every day,” Yager said in an interview last week. “And as odious as it is, the majority of the board said this is what they are interested in.”

Eight of the 11 state board members are appointed by the governor. Yager was appointed by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

The Graduation Pathways Plan, with a requirement for high school students “to learn and demonstrate employability skills,” meets not only the Indiana Chamber's approval, but also the governor's agenda, which is loaded with workforce development proposals.

“Right now we have 85,000 jobs in Indiana unfilled because employers can't find the people equipped with the skills they need,” Holcomb said in his State of the State address Tuesday. “This is the defining issue of the decade, and we don't have a day to waste.”

The governor indicated he will seek funding changes in 2019, when the General Assembly writes a new two-year budget, and urged lawmakers to immediately support efforts by his new Education to Career Pathways Cabinet. McCormick is the only elected official on the panel, which also includes former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo in the newly created post of secretary of career connections and talent, at a salary of $171,500 a year.

Holcomb praised the changes in the state's graduation requirements and diploma program as a step in the right direction. His legislative priority list includes a new mandate for all Indiana high schools to offer computer science. 

Troubling approach

Holcomb's urgency is interesting, given Republican administrations and a GOP-controlled legislature have overseen education and workforce development for the past 13 years. Legislative leaders hinted at changes ahead even as they dismissed prospects of them happening this year.

 “There are several proposals on the table that are worthy of discussion,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said at a legislative conference last month. “But nothing that really radically and systemically revises what we're doing today – which is spending $1 billion through nine different agencies and 30 different programs, and not moving the ball.”

Sen. Travis Holdman, chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, also lowered expectations.

“We'll nibble around the edges, but a systemic fix is not happening,” said the Markle Republican.

It's a “systemic fix” taxpayers should be wary of – this year or in the budget-writing session next year. The Indiana Chamber and governor are pushing an approach that might meet the immediate demands of a handful of Indiana businesses, but is destined to heap new requirements on schools and create layers of costly bureaucracy. The state took control of school general fund costs as part of property tax reform, so lawmakers now have authority to shift money from career and vocational programs to workforce training, if they choose.

And the rift between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education is growing, in spite of the election of a Republican state schools chief. Opposing views on the role of education in workforce training clearly are one of the causes, as some board members push to train high school graduates so they better serve business “end users.”

“There isn't a silver bulllet,” said Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Phil Downs. “Whether it's the problems in (the Department of Child Services) or public schools, private schools, charter schools – all are simply mirrors of societal problems. When they talk about children in danger, those issues all come from deeply complex societal problems and they are not being addressed.

“You get pontification and Band-aids.”

Lawmakers need to step back and listen to the educators who prepare students to not only show up on time and complete their classwork, but also prepare them for civic life; nurture their creativity and, most important, teach them to think critically so they can thrive in an ever-changing economy. 

Finally, legislators could look to Indiana's largest employers to see how workforce training should be done. Parkview Health and Fort Wayne Assembly are thriving by taking responsibility for teaching employees the specific skills they need in their businesses.

Karen Francisco is editorial page editor of The Journal Gazette