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Column: Indiana, open new year by closing our skills gap


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As we move forward into the new year, I was debating whether to do my traditional Top 10 stories of 2013. But seeing how the Top 5 would have all had the names Mike Pence and Glenda Ritz and marriage amendment, I figured I’d do something a little different for the new year and instead of reflecting on the past, talk a little bit about the future — Indiana’s future in particular.

You see, a lot of us will use the new year as a time to make resolutions, but for any resolution to work it has to be realistic, and you have to be dedicated to make it happen.

So Indiana, here is your New Year’s resolution for 2014: Kick it into high gear and really work hard to close that skills gap, both hard and soft.

You’ve heard the stories about employers who have job listings they can’t fill because potential applicants don’t have the technical skills to do the jobs, or they lack the “soft” skills such as knowing how to use proper grammar on a resume or not picking up your cellphone in an interview.

This point really hit home for me when I was interviewing the spokesman for the Department of Workforce Development about 19,000 Hoosiers whose federal extended unemployment benefits were about to expire. He told me that while there are about 60,000 people currently receiving benefits, there were 90,000 jobs listed on the state’s career and job listing website. My jaw dropped to the floor. Yikes!!!

So how does Indiana fix this?

Well, there are a few things we can do. First of all, fully utilize Ivy Tech Community College as a partner to close that gap.

Full disclosure, I teach there in the Speech & Communications area, but the school’s mission has been to help Hoosiers get to the next step in life, so Ivy Tech, Vincennes University and other smaller colleges and universities are crucial in making sure we shrink that gap.

Second, when someone applies for unemployment, it should be mandatory that applicants take a resume writing and interviewing class.

These services already are offered at DWD, for free. The only requirement is that you let the agency know you have been looking for work.

Looking for work with a bad resume and shoddy interview skills only means that you’ll be back at DWD the next week to tell them that you are looking for work.

Third, another problem is the older worker who gets displaced and employers are hesitant to hire. I think Indiana can address this problem in a couple of different ways, such as a “50-plus” tax credit for employers who hire an individual over 50 who has been unemployed for at least a year.

And since we like to offer incentives for employers to come to Indiana, as part of that package, they must agree to hire a certain percentage of applicants older than 50.

People who do this for a living can figure out the details to make it work.

And finally, the government should not do this alone. Businesses might have to adjust their hiring practices and not be so quick to dismiss applicants who have been out of work for a while due to no real fault of their own, and individuals are going to have to make sure they keep their skills up to par to make them more attractive to employers.

Everyone can play a role in helping close the skills gap and getting Indiana back to work. That way when 2015 rolls around, the skills gap can be that thing we used to talk about in 2014.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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