News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 2, 2013

EDITORIAL: Donnelly seeks wide effort in closing skills gap

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Decreasing the unemployment rate is a serious concern across America, particularly in Indiana and especially in Terre Haute.

The national jobless rate has slowly improved since the recession, reaching 7.2 percent in September. Indiana’s rate has long lingered above the U.S. rate, and stands at 8.1 percent. In Terre Haute, unemployment stayed in double-digits throughout the summer. In this community, where median household incomes fall below state and national levels, the blessing of a good-paying job is well understood.

So, any effort to train Hoosiers to fill available, solid-wage jobs deserves praise. A piece of federal legislation — co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat, and Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican — aims to help employers “identify, train and hire workers with the skills to fill existing job openings” around the country. If passed, the Skills Gap Strategy Act would compel the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a “concerted strategy” to address the “skills gap” and improve employer involvement in educating and training workers, the Tribune-Star’s Arthur Foulkes reported Thursday.

The act would not force employer participation, Donnelly said, but call on the Department of Labor to ask employers’ recommendations for reducing the skills gap.

The term “skills gap” refers to the perception that jobs in the Hoosier state and elsewhere are going unfilled because too few people in the available labor force possess the training to perform in those occupations.

At the state level, Indiana government and corporate leaders have cited cases where job-seekers are unable to pass a pre-hiring drug-screening test, or even unwilling to submit to one. In other cases, the “soft skills” of a marketable employee — showing up on time, the ability to work in a team setting, dressing and behaving appropriately — are seen as lacking. As a result, statewide programs are underway to better prepare high school students for the vocational workforce.

The proposed legislation from Donnelly and Heller would use existing Labor Department resources and would not increase spending, the senators said. It would, though, charge the Labor Department with increasing on-the-job training and apprenticeships. It would also call on the department to pinpoint the job credentials needed in the construction, manufacturing and new emerging industries.

The Donnelly and Heller bipartisan approach to the skills gap wisely involves employer participation. Some approaches to the skills gap too heavily blame job-seekers for not pursuing training and lacking a personal work ethic. Such problems are obviously real, but some economists point out that many employers are not paying enough to attract needed workers nor providing on-the-job training. The most effective approach to preparing the workforce for available jobs should involve all sectors — colleges, K-through-12 schools, corporations, small businesses, labor unions, governments at all levels, and prospective employees. The Donnelly-Heller act appears to fulfill that criteria and should move forward.