Indiana’s workforce problems go beyond STEM – Indianapolis Business Journal


Indiana has an employment problem. We’ve all experienced it, whether you’re an employer trying to hire or a customer in a restaurant with a tight staff.

Late last year, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Workforce Cabinet released its recommendations to help. The report, focusing on three areas, falls short in addressing the critical need for all sectors and workers by focusing heavily on STEM.

Helping employers

The cabinet recommends creating a STEM-focused Indiana Talent Agency, led by the Department of Workforce Development, to build a talent pipeline for strategic “high value, high wage” employers and industries.

The proposed talent agency would connect employers with partners, such as community colleges or adult learning centers, to scale up training programs for employees needed in high-technology fields.

This approach might help the tech sector, but what about other parts of the state’s economy facing crippling staffing shortages, such as the service industry? What happens to people not wired to work in STEM fields?

Why not establish a public-private partnership to make use of the expertise of the over 500 staffing agencies that already have boots on the ground and have people who want to work?

The report suggests there “may” be a role for staffing agencies in the development of a career navigation network aimed at high school students.

A network of approved intermediaries, potentially including employers and staffing agencies, could work with students through the last three years of high school to make sure no student leaves school without a plan.

By helping young people understand the basics of hiring and employment, this program could create a cadre of job-ready, talented people who are able to fill roles in many sectors of our economy, not just STEM.

Removing barriers

Ask any employer in the service industry why employees quit, miss work or don’t take a job offer, and you’ll hear “child care and transportation.”

When the annual cost of high-quality child care exceeds tuition and fees at a state university, it’s no mystery that, for many Hoosiers earning an hourly wage, it’s more cost-effective not to work than to pay for child care.

The cabinet’s recommendation that the income eligibility level for state child care vouchers be raised from 127% of the federal poverty line (one of the lowest in the country) to 185% is a step in the right direction. Getting employers to put skin in the game also would help. What about a tax break for employers who subsidize a portion of their workers’ child care costs?

The same approach could be used to overcome transportation barriers. Provide a tax break to employers who offer transportation for their employees or who subsidize bus passes, carpools, e-bikes or gas cards for their workers.

The cabinet’s recommendation that the Legislature increase state complementary funds for federal Section 5311 Formula Grants for Rural Areas could improve transit options for workers in outlying areas, making it easier for them to reach their workplaces.

Preparing skilled workers

Future success depends on a strong foundation; we cannot compete as a state if our children continue to fall behind.

The cabinet’s suggestions for improving Indiana’s third-grade reading performance and for increasing access to Early Childhood Education (preschool) opportunities are laudable.

Recommendations that focus on better preparing high school students for the workforce are commendable. “Rethinking” high school to allow students to engage in learning that is relevant to their future careers and more closely aligned to their postsecondary interests is a good idea, provided it is paired with training programs for those not interested in pursuing a college degree or a STEM-related field.

Do we need more STEM-educated Hoosiers? Yes, but not at the expense of people whose interests and talents lie elsewhere.

We also need chefs and servers, managers and writers, hairdressers and plumbers. The state should be looking out for all Indiana employers, not just those in certain industries. And we should be developing the talents of all our young people, not just those wired for STEM.•


Lessmeister is CEO and founder of LGC Hospitality, a national staffing firm headquartered in Indianapolis. LGC has offices in over 40 U.S. cities. Team members work with hotel and restaurant leadership to place executives and temporary workers.

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