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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 12, 2018 1:00 am

Creating a Skillful Indiana

State teams up with coalition to boost workforce training

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Indiana will become only the second state in the nation to adopt a coordinated philanthropic effort to train residents in the skills needed for future jobs.

Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday announced the launch of Skillful Indiana, a coalition of state government, the Markle Foundation, Microsoft Philanthropies, the Walmart Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, Purdue University, Purdue Extension and the Governor's Workforce Cabinet.

The effort is based on experience gained from the Skillful program, which was started in Colorado in 2016 with a $25.8 million grant from Microsoft Philanthropies. Skillful is an initiative of the Markle Foundation.

It will be customized for Indiana, taking into account the state's existing workforce development programs and needs, officials said. Indiana has projected 1 million skilled jobs openings in the state over the next decade.

Entire professions have been threatened as automation and other technologies improve and become more widespread. Skillful officials said Americans without four-year college degrees are the most vulnerable.

“Skillful Indiana will work with Indiana businesses and the state's innovative educational community to equip Hoosiers with the marketable skills that are the new currency of the digital economy,” officials said in a news release.

Beth Cobert, Skillful's CEO, said during a phone interview Wednesday that her group partners with providers to transform how labor markets operate.

“We did a lot of work in thinking about what was the state that made sense to go to next,” she said, adding that Indiana is more advanced than many others in addressing workforce issues.

Among other efforts, Indiana has launched a website that matches visitors who complete a questionnaire with career options.

Although it was created with middle-schoolers in mind, Indiana Career Explorer allows anyone, including adults, to answer assessment questions and find out which jobs mesh well with their interests and abilities. The software groups all potential careers into 16 broad clusters.

Organizers are still deciding how much money will be necessary to launch Skillful Indiana, considering the staff time and other resources committed by the sponsoring organizations, including Purdue, Cobert said.

Employer involvement will be critical to the program's success, she said.

Among the first steps are helping employers identify which skills are vital to performing a job and which aren't. For example, manufacturing jobs that deal with hydraulics require job candidates with a background in hydraulics, she said. If a bachelor's degree isn't necessary, it shouldn't be included as a job requirement.

Another early step is training career coaches who can help students identify which skills they have and which ones they need to qualify for desired jobs. The next step is pointing those students – or adults changing careers – to organizations that provide the appropriate training or certifications.

Career coaches typically work for nonprofits, community colleges, workforce development offices or other employers, Cobert said. They aren't on the Skillful payroll.

The organizers are looking for an executive director to lead the Indiana effort.

sslater@jg.net