Middle-skill jobs: made in Indiana

Middle-skill jobs: made in Indiana (full article)
By: Thomas J. Snyder and Steve Dwyer
Posted: November 11, 2010

Website: www.indystar.com

There’s been much hand-wringing about the United States turning into an hourglass economy where the job market offers good opportunities for those with advanced degrees, menial positions for those lacking education beyond high school, and not much in between. It’s a grim outlook, but one that doesn’t appear to be true.

A few weeks ago, a consortium of human capital-focused organizations (Skills2Compete, the National Skills Coalition and Indiana Institute for Working Families) released “Indiana’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs.” The report draws attention to the fact that the majority of Hoosier job openings through 2016 will be in the “middle-skill” category, requiring more than high school but less than a four-year college degree.

In Indiana, manufacturing and logistics jobs make up the largest percentage of these middle-skill jobs — nearly 40 percent — and for one of every five total jobs.

This means that thousands of job openings in those fields will require advanced technical skills beyond high school. These challenging, good-paying jobs will make up a vibrant middle class, defying the hourglass theory.

The findings are mirrored by the Department of Workforce Development’s Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs released last month. Manufacturing and logistics are well-represented, with seven jobs on the list, from industrial engineers ($69,000 annually on average) to skilled metal fabricators ( nearly $60,000). While 55 percent of Hoosier jobs are in this middle-skill category, we face a shortage of trained workers. Over the next decade, more than 10,000 job openings may go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.

Nationally, manufacturing shows the largest gap between open positions and actual new hires in 2010, as employers struggle to find workers to operate and troubleshoot complex robotic systems, anticipate supply chain needs and work as a team in highly computerized factories.

Conexus Indiana, the state’s manufacturing and logistics initiative, and Ivy Tech Community College hear a similar refrain: The private sector is gearing up, but human capital is the missing link. Indiana ranks No. 1 among states in per-capita manufacturing employment and ninth in logistics employment. But we must raise the bar for our work force or see these lofty rankings begin to slip.

In response, Conexus and Ivy Tech are working together to translate industry input into useful training programs and promote them to young Hoosiers. As evidenced by collaborations with the national Manufacturing Institute on work-force credentials, and Ivy Tech’s recognition at the White House Community College Summit last month, Indiana is seen as a leader in building industry-academic partnerships.

The work-force pipeline is a critical economic development priority. Pro-growth tax and trade policies and infrastructure investment pale in comparison to the importance of a skilled and productive work force.

Promoting training beyond high school means meeting the middle-skill needs of industries like manufacturing and logistics, and preserving our middle class.

Snyder is president of Ivy Tech Community College. Dwyer is president and CEO of Conexus Indiana.