Training is key to state’s success

KPC News Service

Indiana can have an exciting economic future if we educate Hoosiers to succeed. That’s the message from a recent meeting of two councils trying to build a path to that future.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, is a member of the Indiana Career Council. It met recently in Indianapolis for its first joint session with the Indiana State Workforce Innovation Council.

Smaltz came away motivated by the way the two councils are combining to meet Indiana’s challenges.

In the next 10 years, Smaltz says, 1 million jobs will become available in the Hoosier state. More than half will open due to the exit of Baby Boomers from the work force.

“We need every able-bodied worker to be able to fill those jobs so they don’t leave,” Smaltz said.

But our present education system will have to take a fresh approach to prepare Hoosiers to fill those jobs.

We especially need people who are certified in trades and technical skills, because Indiana remains the nation’s leader in manufacturing and wants to hold that status.

Skills that will be in high demand include industrial robotics and welding, Smaltz said.

“We’re trying to figure how to get kids to enter the workforce with industry-recognized certificates,” Smaltz said.

That may require a rethinking of high school, offering new diploma types for students who are headed toward career and technical training.

Smaltz is enthused by a new trend toward high schools that continue through grades 13 and 14.

Students staying an extra year or two would spend their time outside the school building in work-sharing experiences and apprenticeships.

“It requires the business community — the private community — to buy into it,” Smaltz said. They would do so by providing opportunities for “work and learn” programs.

“Private industry has a huge part to play, They’re starting to catch on more and more that having kids come in as apprentices is the best way to have valued workers quickly,” Smaltz said.

Indiana is not focusing totally on high schools, however. Another goal calls for people who started post-high-school education, but dropped out, to come back and finish their degrees.

Smaltz said the message to those adults is that college has changed since they attended, and they’ve changed, too, so it’s time to give it another try.

Indiana also needs to help students complete their degrees on time.

He said only 5 percent of students who start two-year degree programs actually finish in two years.

It’s good news that Indiana leaders seem to be working well together.

One goal of the two groups that met is to get all parts the education and economic systems pulling in the same direction, instead of going solo. Smaltz said Indiana may be accomplishing that better than any other state.

Smaltz, a Republican, sat alongside Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, often Indiana’s most demonized Democrat. He said they got along just fine.

“We had a great talk after the meeting” for 15 minutes about education, Smaltz reported. It’s refreshing to hear that an encounter between Ritz and a Republican can focus on progress instead of politics.

Indiana will need everyone cooperating to stay ahead in the game, setting up both young people and veteran workers for success.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to