The State of Indiana expects a million jobs to open up over the next 10 years, but finding people to fill them remains a challenge. That’s the message the Indiana Department of Workforce Development shared with Starke County manufacturers, educators, and elected officials last week.
Dennis Wimer is the associate chief operating officer for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. He was the keynote speaker during the Starke County Economic Development Foundation’s 2016 Prospectus and Achievement Celebration Thursday. It was part of the larger Manufacturers Day event, which gave seventh graders from around Starke County the chance to learn about 17 local manufacturing companies.
Wimer pointed out that rather than focus on job-seekers, the Department of Workforce Development instead chooses to focus on businesses. “I have said over the last five years, I consider us to be a manufacturing organization,” he said. “We manufacture employees for the businesses of the state. If we look at it differently, we’re not really doing the right thing for the state. So the challenge of that, for all you manufacturers, is every raw material that I get in is different.”
He noted that Indiana has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but Starke County hasn’t quite reached the same level of success, “Starke County’s unemployment rate’s a little higher than the state overall, 5.3-percent, with a total labor force around 11,000 and about 600 or so total size unemployment in that labor force and around 250 job openings in Starke County alone, which all of you know.” Wimer added that 75 percent of Starke County’s employers are small businesses with only one to nine employees.
One challenge the state faces is the area of education. He said roughly 70,000 Indiana students graduate from high school each year, but 8,700 fail to do so. Of those who attend and complete college, under half remain in the state after graduation. Wimer said the state continues to take steps to make sure its educational efforts align with the skills needed by employers while also making students aware of the opportunities that exist in their communities. “Really, students lack the information about occupations and demand,” he said. “This day is one of those things that works to change that, and these kinds of thing, over the last couple years I’ve seen, have started to increase across the state. So we recognize these issues, and across the state, communities – not just the state agency – but communities are working to fix these problems.”
Wimer felt that the Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning does a good job of matching these skills, and similar programs need to be enhanced and developed around the state. He said the state is making grant funding available to help do that. “Last year, we gave out $11 million for our Skill UP grant, and that’s going to take folks and companies and training solutions and provide the kind of training that people need,” Wimer said. “Enhancing organizations like SCILL is the kind of thing that we’ve done across the state with those grants. SCILL wasn’t a recipient of it. I want them to apply for round three. I think they have a great opportunity for that.”
Additionally, Wimer says the Department of Workforce Development is tracking 800 different types of jobs and forecasting the demand for each of them at the county level for the next several years. The state also plans to roll out a “skills engine” that takes each of those jobs and translates them into a list of the direct skills required.