TERRE HAUTE —
The issue of Indiana’s “skills gap” arose during a community jobs fair Thursday at Hulman Center, hosted by 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon.
The job fair itself serves an important role; unemployment remains high here. Terre Haute’s jobless rate of 10.8 percent exceeds the state rate of 8.5 percent, according to the April report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Likewise, Indiana’s rate is higher than the national unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.
At the fair, Bucshon — a second-term Republican from Newburgh — mentioned a handful of workforce problems, including the skills gap and federal unemployment benefits becoming a disincentive for people to find work. “Another big challenge is [employers] are having difficulty … because there are people failing drug tests,” the congressman said.
In terms of unemployment benefits, Bucshon said, “We have a federal system that is discouraging people from taking employment because, really, they are trapped in the system. Once people are in it, they’re trapped in it.”
Those points are commonly voiced. The skills gap — a situation where the training of a prospective employee fails to match the needs of employees seeking workers — exists. And, some job-seekers indeed are unable to pass or unwilling to take a company’s pre-hiring drug-screening test. And, some people find jobless benefits bring them more money than an available job, and, thus, avoid employment.
There’s more to the job hunting picture, though.
Indiana has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. If, for example, the disincentive nature of federal unemployment benefits is a primary cause of joblessness here, why are larger percentages of Hoosiers unemployed than residents of many other states?
Responsibility extends beyond the workers hunting for jobs. Companies and manufacturers also must invest in training employees and paying them sufficient wages, David Sanders, a Purdue University associate professor of biological sciences wrote in an essay published on the Inside Indiana Business website. Sanders cited research on the “skills gap” from University of Pennsylvania professor of management, Peter Cappelli. The skills gap concept is — among other trends — pushing colleges and universities toward becoming predominantly job-training centers, and prompting corporations to seek government tax credits to train their workers, Sanders wrote.
Indiana’s unemployment problem requires a multi-pronged approach. The federal unemployment benefits system, the lifestyle habits of jobless people, and the need for greater skills training are all concerns, but just a handful of many. The Indiana economy still copes with the pluses and minuses of being heavily reliant upon manufacturing. Hoosiers remain among America’s best at handling and maintaining jobs that create useful products. But those industries, and the global economy, are changing. The trades industries, where union apprenticeship programs provide training, illuminate the need for similar levels of training in other fields, including Indiana’s bread-and-butter manufacturing.
Universities, K through 12 schools, companies, unions, government at every level, and average Hoosiers bear a responsibility for improving the jobs and incomes available in Indiana.