Talent is the key to America’s success this century, and the need for it is greater than ever, said the leader of a private foundation that supports educational attainment.

“Talent is and always has been the key to social and economic success — for individuals, cities and regions, for states and indeed for our nation as a whole,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, during his keynote speech Thursday at the Regional Workforce Talent Summit at The Commons.

“Without sufficient talent — talent that’s fully and thoughtfully developed, and steadily upgraded and in constant supply, the success we seek — the bright future we yearn for, that simply won’t happen,” Merisotis said.

The summit, planned by the Community Education Coalition and the Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network, was intended to bring together workforce, community, education, business and government stakeholders from across southeast Indiana to inform the region of the current state of the workforce and education.

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It also served as an opportunity for stakeholders to learn what is happening across the EcO Network and learn about some best practices in certain parts of the region that can be applied elsewhere toward the goal of a better educated and skilled workforce to meet employers’ needs.

About 240 people representing nearly 30 regional companies attended the workforce summit.

Workforce challenges

The EcO Network serves 10 counties in southeast Indiana, including Bartholomew, Jennings and Jackson. Employers in the region are struggling to find enough skilled employees to meet their job needs, members of the EcO Network explained.It’s projected that by 2025 about 13,000 jobs in the region — representing 60 percent of all jobs in the region — will require at least an associate degree. However, as of 2014 only 29.4 percent of adults in the region had at least that level of education.

Poverty is the greatest barrier to educational attainment in the southeast region, said Kathy Huffman, EcO Network manager for attainment.

More than 45 percent of students in kindergarten through Grade 12 in the region qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, she said.

Also, students who qualify for discounted school meals traditionally graduate from high school and earn post-secondary degrees at lower rates than other students, Huffman said.

Those hurdles amplify the challenge of bolstering the talent pipeline.

Forecasts have indicated that 4,000 to 4,500 jobs will need to be filled in the southeast region of Indiana between 2018 and 2019.

In health care, the second-largest industry sector in the region behind manufacturing, registered nurses are one of the most in-demand professions, but there aren’t enough new nurses or other health care professionals to fill the jobs, said Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition and facilitator of EcO’s health care network.

One of the reasons the talent pipeline is lacking in the region and statewide is that young adults are seeking careers elsewhere after growing up in Indiana.

“We develop more talent than we keep,” said Drew Klacik, a senior policy analyst with the IU Public Policy Institute.

Klacik presented data from the Indiana Business Research Center that projected the southeast region would experience a 6 percent drop in its workforce by 2040, although Bartholomew County would see a 1 percent gain.

On a broader scale, 2 million jobs in the U.S. are unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, and two-thirds of the jobs today require post-secondary training, Merisotis said.

New approach

Merisotis suggested that talent needs to be viewed differently in order to nurture and grow it to meet the country’s needs.For example, he said it would make sense to create a U.S. Department of Talent by merging three federal government entities:

The Department of Education

The Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration

The talent and recruitment functions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service under the Department of Homeland Security

This change would create a better focus on outcomes, and show that the federal government is being serious and strategic in its role in developing, harnessing and deploying American talent, Merisotis said.

Similarly, states could consolidate departments to create one focused on developing talent and tackling all the elements in the pipeline, such as standards, funding, the network of post-secondary providers and retraining displaced workers, Merisotis said.

Growing the talent pipeline also can be accomplished by employing a different immigration model, Merisotis said.

“The focus should not be on who we want in our borders, but what society do we want and recruiting the talent we want to create it,” he said.

One reason to think differently about immigration is because the need for talent is global, and the U.S. is competing with other countries for it, Merisotis said.

“We need to pursue every avenue to deepen the country’s talent pool,” he said.

Merisotis also suggested that:

The country’s post-secondary system be more affordable, student-centered and focused on genuine learning because it’s not affordable for many, and doesn’t always provide skills need for long-term success.

Cities and regions need to become talent hubs — places where innovation and creativity thrive — by attracting talent but also cultivating homegrown talent.

Education and employment need to be tightly intertwined, such as supporting employer investments in post-secondary learning, or income-based scholarships where a student’s education is paid for up front and repaid later based on earnings after graduation.

Thinking differently about talent and making changes accordingly would mean prosperity would no longer be defined by the size of the U.S. economy, but rather by its Gross Talent Product — the market and non-market monetary value of the country’s shared prosperity, Merisotis said.

Paths to well-paying employment

The Southeast Indiana Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network has developed education programs that link students to well-paying employment.

Advanced Manufacturing Network Projects:

  • In partnership with Conexus Indiana, Work and Learn internships for regional high school students
  • Expansion of Cub Manufacturing Model student-run machine shop in Jefferson, Jackson and Ripley Counties
  • Regional Manufacturing Teacher Externships

Healthcare Network Projects:

  • Healthcare Pipeline Director at IUPUC
  • Training and support programs for students, high school counselors and post-secondary educators
  • Accelerated Bachelor in Nursing (BSN) Faculty Position
  • Development of a standardized methodology for the calculation of employer workforce turnover and workforce vacancy which will be utilized to calculate the healthcare workforce demand across the region

Educational Attainment Network Projects:

  • Dream. It. Do. It. Career Awareness Expansion, in partnership with the Manufacturing & Healthcare Networks
  • Computing Skills Workforce Needs Assessment
  • Regional Data and Analytics
  • Expansion of High School to Employer Talent Pipeline with WorkOne
  • Expansion of Regional Dropout Prevention Programs (iGrad, JAG, others)
  • Latino Post-secondary Achievement – College and Career Coaching
  • Region 9 Adult Education Works! Certification Expansion
  • Transition to Post-secondary – Department of Corrections and Ivy Tech Madison

Pull Quote

“The focus should not be on who we want in our borders, but what society do we want and recruiting the talent we want to create it.”

— Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.