Since 2013, the state of Indiana has added more than 140,000 jobs. That’s a good story to tell, said former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann — but there’s a catch.
“The tough part about that if you’re the employer … is you know how difficult it now is to find employees,” Ellspermann said. “That’s the challenge we’re in now … to find that skilled workforce, those professional degrees. And that ranges from computer science to information technology and all the health care fields to advanced manufacturing and even aerospace.”
The “skills gap” dilemma — one that holds huge economic implications for all Hoosiers — was the focal point of the second annual Education-to-Employment (E2E) Convergence conference hosted by Innovate Indiana on Thursday May 19 at IUPUI’s Campus Center. By providing students more opportunities and enhanced experiences at developing job skills while still in college, it is hoped that future graduates will enter Indiana’s workforce more smoothly.
In turn, this would help reduce the growing “gap” between higher demand for technically skilled workers and the number of graduates who have such skills. If Indiana colleges and universities cannot meet such demands, future opportunities for economic growth will be lost to states whose workforce does possess such skills.
As keynote speaker for the day-long event, Ellspermann recalled her time as vice chair of the Indiana Career Council, when it was found that 65 percent of Indiana’s new jobs going forward will require some post-secondary training — meaning either two-year or four-year degrees, or a technical certification.
By 2025, Indiana hopes to have 60 percent of its workforce possessing some level of post-secondary job training, she said. At present, about 42 percent of Hoosier workers hold such credentials.
“So there’s a lot for all us in this room to figure out,” said Ellspermann, who was appointed president of Ivy Tech Community College the day before the conference. “Certainly a big part of that is the alignment to what you as employers need. And that includes getting the counseling right in the schools … but first, how do we know what the true demand is? Today we really don’t know how many of each job we need.”
Some of those answers are on the way, Ellspermann said. Recently the state legislature tasked the Department of Workforce Development to track about 800 job titles — and their matching skill sets — statewide and regionally over periods that range from immediate demand up to five-year projections.
Highlights of the day’s proceedings are available below:
Another promising approach, one that helps eliminate career indecision among college students, involves the concept of “orienteering.”
Devised by Indianapolis-based Bitwise Solutions as part of an apprentice learning program, it entails two days in which high school students — after taking a battery of personality and skill assessments — meet with “mentors” from local companies to talk about a “day in the life” in a range of occupations. At the end of the first day, students develop a “beginning map” of a career they are interested in — and then must defend it against people they know.
“By the end of the second day, they have a map — not of the coordinate of where they want to go, but a quadrant — a direction — where they want to go,” Ellspermann said. After one such session, about one-third of the students ended up with an internship “because the mentors met somebody they would like in their workforce eventually,” she added.
Another focus involves work-and-learn initiatives that bring schools and employers together through internships, apprenticeships, cooperative arrangements and other programs.
“We need even more of them. We need to have more of our students in your (employers) place earlier than later,” Ellspermann said. “I really ask in every way as employers that you partner with your universities, with us at Ivy Tech and across the state. Because we need — if possible — every student to have that kind of experience before they graduate.”
Following opening remarks by IU Vice President of Engagement Bill Stephan and IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar, Stephen Fry of Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. emphasized the need for college graduates who are “learning agile” — a trait he described as being highly correlated with leadership potential.
Along with deep technical knowledge, today’s graduates must also be able to work well with colleagues from different disciplines and backgrounds, as work increasingly takes place on a collaborative and global scale, Fry said.
“We want (job) candidates who can boldly live out our principles of connecting with people, being determined and driving continuous improvement. Bold leadership can change lives, change communities — even change the course of history,” said Fry, Lilly’s senior vice president of human resources and diversity. “The best leaders are determined to make a difference. They pursue goals with tenacity, grit and courage. They envisage what is possible and pursue it with great confidence. These are the leaders we are looking for.”
“You can buy anything else. You can buy tools, you can buy equipment, you can buy machinery, you can license products and technology,” said Osowick, Cummins’ vice president of human resource operations. “But the real competitive edge is the quality of your talent and how effectively you have that talent working together.”
Osowick added that the “talent gap” is not only an Indiana problem, but a problem nationwide as competition becomes increasingly global for workers with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills.
“Twenty-five percent of all the college hires we place in an undergraduate, graduate or Ph.D level are foreign national students completing their degrees in the U.S. So diversity matters and certainly global diversity matters,” he said.
“But the fact of the matter is we’re not doing a good enough job of getting American women and American citizens on a STEM path. We are leaving women on the sidelines still in many career areas and we’re leaving U.S. minorities on the sidelines in many career areas and disciplines. We need to find a way to dig deeper and get those talented people engaged in STEM education and STEM careers much earlier.”
Five experts who address education-to-employment issues on a daily basis spoke at length about various programs, initiatives and experiences they have encountered in their efforts to recruit an increasingly technically oriented workforce.
David Johnson, president and CEO of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, announced the formation of the Central Indiana Workforce Development Initiative, a “sector agnostic” effort designed to bring together CEOs and college/university presidents together to drill down and isolate specific causes behind Indiana’s growing “skills gap.”
“We are really trying to find out what those issues are, whether they are sector specific, whether they are occupation specific and work company-by-company and higher ed institution-by-higher ed institution to really begin to deliver some detailed solutions to this,” Johnson said.
At Indiana University Kokomo, one of the main tasks is transforming students with a largely rural background into prospective employees who are equipped to work in a global environment, university Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke said.
“They come from a small community, they’ve never seen an African-American person … They don’t have a sense of what it means to deal with people who come from a variety of different cultures and countries,” she said.
“So we’re delivering a curriculum that provides students with (technical and soft) skill sets. As you know, the research is very clear. That in order for a student to come out with some deep learning and applied learning, they need to be engaged in three to five high-impact practices minimum during their college career. That is, undergraduate research, internships, practicum, applied learning, applied projects — all of those kinds of things.”
“I remind these young men I work with every day at Wabash College: ‘I’d hate to be in your shoes when your first boss is a woman — and you’re not prepared. You don’t appreciate it, you don’t value it, you don’t expect them to be as smart as you. And I hope she’s black,'” he said. “And they fell out of their chair because I knew they weren’t ready for that. Don’t let that be the first time you really appreciate and value women, when you’re in an interview setting and you interact with someone who’s different from you.”
As of mid-May, Indiana INTERNnet, which serves as a statewide clearinghouse for internships, had almost 7,000 employers and 14,000 active students on its website, with 700 internships open at that time, Executive Director Janet Boston said. In some cases, Indiana INTERNnet has pushed its listings to other sites to help spread the word about such opportunities.
“We know the schools have told us that sometimes they’re taking them off our website and putting them on theirs because they’re trying to provide access for their students and we know the students benefit,” she said. “This has been a great experience, so we’re hoping to do this with other schools.”
For companies like Warsaw-based Zimmer Biomet, which are not household names beyond their region or industry, recruiters sometimes have to work harder to attract talent coming out Indiana’s colleges and universities.
“For those of you who are familiar with (Warsaw), we call ourselves the orthopedic capital of the world. Prior to the merger of Zimmer and Biomet last year, we had three of the major players in the muscloskeletal space headquartered in Warsaw, said Erin Morris, Zimmer’s talent acquisition leader. “But some of these college students … they just don’t know about us. So we do a couple of things. We target schools in the Midwest to find talent and do a lot of co-op and internship programs. We generally have between 75 and 100 co-ops and interns at any given point throughout the year.”
Additional efforts include arranging speaking engagements for Zimmer Biomet employees at their alma mater, partnering with Orthoworx — a Warsaw-based industry support organization — and early career development programs in such areas as finance, operations, quality control, human resources and other career tracks, she said.
Critical thinking. Careful analysis. Perceptive reading. Problem solving. Working productively with other people. Appreciating diversity. Genuine inclusion of the perspectives of others with differing backgrounds or cultures. Global experience. The ability to adapt to new information and new conditions. Strong ethics. Awareness of the needs of others. Knowing how to learn and having a passion to learn.
All of those traits are known as “soft skills” — and mastering them is essential for doing business on a global scale in the 21st century, said John Applegate, IU’s executive vice president for academic affairs. Such skills are not easy to obtain, some are among the most difficult to get.
But if colleges and universities are to meet the expectations of employers who compete on a global stage — as many Indiana companies do — it is essential that they expose students to as many opportunities to hone “soft skills” as possible and apply them in tandem with the technical knowledge they acquire.
“They’re not obtained in one class. They’re not obtained very directly. And they’re not obtained just in class,” Applegate said. “They’re part of the larger experience of higher education. These are the skills that are the differentiators for students.”