News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 20, 2013

Closing the gap: Sen. Donnelly promotes federal job training bill in visit to ISU

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sen. Joe Donnelly was in Terre Haute on Tuesday pushing for a bill he has introduced that would link federal college and university funding to in-demand jobs training.

The America Works Act, which Donnelly has introduced along with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), would focus federal education funding on training programs recognized and demanded by industry. The goal is to train more workers for jobs in industries in which some observers believe there is a serious “skills gap.”

Donnelly toured the College of Technology at Indiana State University on Tuesday afternoon to see some of the hands-on training students receive in aeronautics, unmanned aircraft piloting, welding and high-technology parts manufacturing.

“At ISU, they are doing work for the most advanced engineering areas, as they are at Rose-Hulman,” Donnelly said. “The areas being delved into here academically are areas where we’re going to find more and more jobs for Hoosiers.”

Donnelly visited with students in several different areas of the John T. Myers Technology Building, including the aerospace simulator room where he chatted briefly with three professional aviation/flight technology students, Joe Haddad, J.J. Dover and Dan Nicolosi.

“This is awesome,” Donnelly said as he spoke with the students, who were sitting in a simulated aircraft cockpit.

Earlier Tuesday, Donnelly, a first-term senator from South Bend, visited Jeffersonville and Evansville, where he met with employers and educators. He arrived at ISU – his first visit to the university since being elected to the senate — in the late afternoon and was escorted around campus by university officials, including President Dan Bradley.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Donnelly stated there are an estimated 600,000 high-skill jobs in the U.S. that are unfilled. During a tour of the state last month, Donnelly said he met with Hoosier employers who complained of being unable to find employees for many jobs, especially those requiring technical skills.

“We have employer after employer who have positions that are open,” Donnelly said.

There is some disagreement nationally as to whether a “skills gap” exists. Some economists, such as Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner and a columnist for The New York Times, believe the “gap” is caused by employers paying too little to attract workers. Others, such as the Boston Consulting Group, a management strategy consultancy, report a skills gap among highly skilled workers of between 80,000 and 100,000 workers. A joint survey by Deloitte, a consulting firm, and an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, estimated there are about 600,000 high-skill positions currently unfilled.

While at ISU, Donnelly, a Democrat, said he believes the gap exists.

“From my own personal experience, we have employers who have swapped the same employee three or four times,” Donnelly said. “There are not enough people skilled in that particular craft. … Wages do go up that way, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that there are still not enough people doing it.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com