Proposed bill aims at attracting new talent to state

Third House focuses on labor

Indiana’s labor shortage dominated discussion at this week’s Third House legislation discussion.

If Indiana can’t grow its own workforce, “we’ve got to start attracting talent to the state,” Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, told about 60 people attending the weekly session at Mill Race Center.

Senate Bill 50, for which Walker is one of 25 co-authors, is one potential help in that regard, Walker said. The multi-faceted workforce development bill includes tax credits in special circumstances for individuals who relocate to Indiana to fill high-demand jobs not likely to be filled by current Hoosiers.

The measure was given final approval Feb. 6 by the Senate with a 45-3 vote, and will now be considered by the Indiana House.

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Since Senate Bill 50 attempts to bring job-training opportunities under one roof, Walker described the measure as “the most impactful bill we’ve done this year.”

It wasn’t the only bill under consideration to address workforce development.

In an effort to attract professionally trained Hoosier workers back to their home state, State Rep. Milo Smith said he introduced House Bill 1241, which would allow them to avoid paying state taxes for five years.

However, opponents such as Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb claimed the measure would be too much of an economic strain, said Smith, R-Columbus.

As a result, the bill was allowed to die without a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Walker said factors that contribute to workforce shortages from high college drop-out rates to an overemphasis of the value of a four-year degree.

“Industries that look for certification are always coming up short right now,” Walker said. “We also don’t turn out nor retain as many graduates as many other states.”

High cost of higher education

In response, two audience members told Walker the soaring cost of higher education must be recognized as one reason for workforce challenges.

Michael Cunningham, a Columbus Regional Hospital retiree, told Walker he knew nurses who have accumulated more than $40,000 in student loan debt who can’t afford car or mortgage payments.

“What effect does that have on our economy?” Cunningham asked.

Steve Schoettmer of Columbus, a candidate for state representative, said he has talked to graduates with professional degrees who have accumulated debts in excess of $100,000, with money borrowed at 7.25 percent interest.

Some of them end up paying more than $250,000 to satisfy those loans, Schoettmer said.

While admitting the cost of higher education has risen faster than inflation for decades, Walker said some lending institutions will adjust loan payments to income levels.

And although some job seekers may find larger paychecks in other states, the cost of living is also higher in many areas outside Indiana, Walker said.

As the state begins to determine how to fund changes in workforce-development programs, it’s important to make sure credentials are stackable, said Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition.

Stacking means that, over a lifetime of learning, individuals can assemble a series of traditional degree-based credentials with non-traditional credentials such as certifications, licenses, badges and apprenticeships.

Advocates of credential stacking such as Oren believe the practice provides an more accurate assessment of knowledge, skills and abilities, as well as serving as an incentive for older workers to learn new skills.

Smith and Walker, as well as forum moderator Jesse Brand, said credential stacking can only be achieved through the consent of several different public and private organizations.

Overview: Senate Bill 50

Allows a maximum two years of tax credits to workers who relocate to Indiana to become employed in a new high-demand, unfilled job, if the Indiana Economic Development Corp. determines that the jobs are not likely to be filled by current Indiana residents.

Those credits will be made available if:

  • The existing high-demand, unfilled job has been unfilled for at least 180 days due to a lack of qualified job candidates.
  • The job is not likely to be filled by current Indiana residents.

Other provisions in the bill would result in:

  • The creation of the office of Indiana Secretary of Workforce Training.
  • Establishment of both a college and career funding review committee and a board for technical education.
  • Reductions in funding for underperforming workforce training programs.
  • The use of federal guidelines for apprenticeship programs that are utilized as a graduation pathway requirement.
  • Establishing a real-world, career-readiness program in all schools by 2023.
  • Creating several study groups on workforce development.

Third House schedule

The Indiana General Assembly has reached the halfway mark of this year’s short session.

A total of 172 bills originating in the Senate have been sent to the House, while the House has forwarded 130 bills to the Senate, according to State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.

Third House Sessions, which allows the public to ask questions and express concerns to their state lawmakers, is scheduled to be held weekly through at least March 12.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.