The Journal Gazette
Friday, March 09, 2018 1:00 am

General Assembly

2 bills advancing to expand workforce grants

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers have come to agreement on two workforce development bills that will expand several grant programs to skill up Indiana's employees.

The details have not yet been made public, but House and Senate leaders Thursday described the broad strokes.

The issue is important but hasn't earned many headlines as lawmakers hammered out the machinery behind a new workforce cabinet and structure. Funding decisions will come in next year's budget session.

“There was a point in the session when I thought this was all going to be forward-looking, but the team has come up with some strong ideas on implementing now and still teeing this up for investment in the next session,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said.

The biggest change is the creation of a new Jobs Employer Training Grant Program, which establishes employer grants of up to $50,000 for helping employees receive a high school equivalency diploma or an industry credential or certification.

Another component is expanding the existing workforce readiness grant, which pays the tuition and mandatory fees for Hoosiers to earn a high-value certificate at Ivy Tech Community College or Vincennes University. It's currently limited to those 25 and up but now will be available for anyone 18 or older.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said these grants will come from money that already has been appropriated by the legislature on workforce development; the intent is to use those dollars more effectively.

“I'm confident whatever we're spending now will be better spent,” he said.

The state spends about $1 billion annually on workforce development across nine agencies.

“We are getting all this together and ready to go ... but it will rev into full gear, full throttle at the end of next session,” Long said. “Next year will be the big enchilada as far as making it all work.”

The final package – which will be contained in House Bill 1002 and Senate Bill 50 – also sets up the structure and membership of the Governor's Workforce Cabinet and requires the governor to appoint a secretary of workforce training by this summer.

Both Long and Bosma say the key to the new cabinet is stocking it with business executives who are empowered to make funding decisions on specific workforce programs.

Bosma said the bills also call for a full review of all workforce programs. That review might conclude that the state should eliminate some while adding funding to others.

Long is also proud of a counseling component to help with career counseling in high schools so that parents and students better understand what opportunities exist outside a four-year college degree.

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