State agency could aid region’s work-force development efforts

September 20th, 2013

News Coverage:

State agency could aid region’s work-force development efforts

Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 9:43 am, Fri Sep 20, 2013.

By Barry Rochford

For the past few years, economic-development officials in northeast Indiana have been vocal about the need to create talent and strengthen work-force skills in the region so it can compete against the rest of the country — and the world — to attract businesses and jobs.

A new agency established by Gov. Mike Pence could buttress work being done locally, potentially bringing to bear new ideas, resources and funding to those efforts.

The Center for Education and Career Innovation was established to create a “unified vision” for ensuring Indiana’s education system and work-force training programs are aligned with industry needs, and to act as the mechanism by which a slate of new governor-appointed councils close a perceived skills gap in the state.

Over the next year, the center will develop a strategic plan for how Indiana can better prepare Hoosiers — from kindergarten students to college graduates to adult workers in need of additional training — for future careers.

“There isn’t one entity that oversees that kind of streamlined vision across the pipeline,” said Jaclyn Dowd, Pence’s special assistant for career innovation.

“The center is really unique in bringing together the entire spectrum of education …,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, who serves as Pence’s special assistant for education innovation.

The center was created following Pence’s formation of the 16-member Indiana Career Council, which has been tasked with creating an inventory of jobs across the state, determining the skills those jobs require and then evaluating how schools and work-force training programs are preparing individuals to fill those jobs.

In addition, 11 regional works councils were formed to bring together industry representatives who will assess career and technical education at the post-high-school level.

When Pence’s office announced the formation of the Center for Education and Career Innovation in August, it created a minor political controversy when the spokesman for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said Ritz hadn’t been briefed on it. The Indiana State Teachers Association called the center a “power grab,” saying Pence was attempting to wrestle authority away from Ritz.

The center, Dowd said, will not assume any functions of the Indiana Department of Education, which Ritz oversees. Instead, it will work to bring together “the entire spectrum” of institutions involved in education and work-force training.

How the center will do that has yet to be determined. It’s expected to have a draft strategic plan by Dec. 1 with a final draft due by July 1.

One of the functions of the center will be to raise awareness of programs already in existence across the state or elsewhere that could serve as models. In northeast Indiana, the Talent Initiative, which was funded by a $20-million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant, has spurred the creation of New Tech schools across the region that use a project-based learning curriculum, and programs at institutions such as Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast that are designed to meet the work-force needs of area employers.

In addition, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership has created “The Big Goal” collaborative, which seeks to increase the number of northeast Indiana residents with a college degree or industry credential to 60 percent by 2025.

Dowd said efforts to boost work-force development in northeast Indiana potentially could be duplicated elsewhere in the state.

“The northeast Indiana partnership is probably a model for the state in terms of having employers at the table,” she said.

Another function of the center will be to serve as an advocate for education and work-force initiatives. As members of Pence’s cabinet, Fiddian-Green said she and Dowd will be in a position to lobby for additional funding for those efforts.

“That is, indeed, something we anticipate doing through the center,” she said.

That support would be welcome, said Kathleen Randolph, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Workforce Investment Board, which provides GED preparation classes, work-force training programs and operates area WorkOne centers. (Editor’s note: Randolph was appointed to the Region 3 Works Council on Sept. 18.)

“Right now, we have a fairly dramatic skills mismatch,” she said. “We have had a full-bore focus on increasing credential attainment.”

She added: “We think there’s tremendous potential in (the center) to help advance our mission in northeast Indiana and bring the governor’s vision to life.”

Ryan Twiss, director of the regional partnership’s “Big Goal” collaborative, said the new Center for Education and Career Innovation will bolster work-force development efforts in northeast Indiana. And when it comes to closing the region’s skills gap, every little bit of support helps.

“There’s no doubt it’s an incredible challenge. That’s why we call it ‘The Big Goal,’” he said. “But by the same time, it has the opportunity to change the entire story for northeast Indiana.”