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Indiana General Assembly plans to focus on workforce education in upcoming legislative session

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Posted at 9:27 PM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-06 11:17:36-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislators have been assigned to house an education committee.

"While Indiana continues to make historic investments in K-12 education and is the No. 1 state for school choice and parent empowerment, we still have work to do," Bob Behning, committee chair and State Rep. said. "We must do more to ensure our high school graduates are ready to meet the needs of our 21st Century economy, and I look forward to working on this critical issue and many others in the session ahead.”

Leaders at the state house have said that education with a focus on workforce development will be a big focus in the upcoming session.

The labor shortage is hitting Indiana hard so the Indiana general assembly is working on legislation that will guide teens and young adults towards a pathway of employment.

One program that has been in Indiana since 2006 is the JAG program. Julie Flint’s has a background in social work, but for over a decade has been a JAG specialist.

"We help students prepare whether that is to go in to work, college, trade school apprenticeship, military, basically anything except be a couch bum, " Flint said.

JAG stand for Jobs for America’s Graduates. The program spends 25% of its time either on field trips or with guest speakers from various careers coming into the classroom.

They also do some career exploration assessments through Indiana career Explorer. When the program started several students were interested in pursuing a college degree, but these days things have changed only about 20% of Flints students plan on pursing a traditional 4-year degree.

"Whenever I started in 2011, we probably had about 50% of our students thinking at least associates degree and 4-year, but a lot of it now is something that is going to get them directly in to a good paying job, " Flint who works at Decatur Central High School said.

Lilly Wheeler is senior at Decatur Central High School and taking part in the JAG program. She plans on pursing a 4-year degree and will be the first in her family to do so. She says she isn’t the norm among her peers.

"You know COVID we were at home so everybody kind of got use to that,” Wheeler said. “Now everybody is just like well I can get a warehouse job because those jobs are more in demand now because of COVID so people don't really want to pursue college anymore."

The trend of less young people pursing a 4-year degree is something the Indiana Chamber of Commerce says they are aware of.

"Going back a handful of years ago almost two-thirds of our students were going on now it's hovering just above 50% and for male students it's below 50% so there's a major problem. There is a major disconnect there, " Jason Bearce the V.P. of Education and Workforce at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said.

The Chamber says this is a troubling trend and could potentially have an impact on economic development.

Indiana had a really good story to tell because we're one of the most business friendly, tax friendly, regulatory friendly states in the country, lowest cost of doing business, etc,” Bearce said. “Increasingly employers are looking at what the talent level is in each state and they're looking at their education levels.

“So, we want to compete for those kinds of jobs," Bearce said. “We've got to do a better job in making the case to individuals, particularly young students coming out of high school that they're going to need more than just a diploma, that a diploma is not enough.”

Republicans haven’t laid out exactly what their plans are to reinvent the wheel. The Chamber says they would support work-based learning programs; however, democrats feel there are bigger issues at hand when it comes to education.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney a Democrat from Indianapolis who sits on the education committee says creating a fancy new program isn’t the answer.

“If we have a workforce problem what it means is, our kids don't get prepared for the current job availabilities or don't choose them. These are counseling problems,” DeLaney said. “We don't need to create new programs, which we call workforce. We just need to help kids direct themselves. Many of our schools have 400 students per counselor; the recommendation is 250.”

He feels that the general assembly needs to focus on increasing teachers’ pay and encourage more students to go into education.

"We have a teacher’s shortage and it's only going to get worse with fewer and fewer people studying to be teachers,” DeLaney said. “We need to provide more scholarships, more financial aid and more moral building for teachers, then we might solve that long term problem."

We reached out to Republican leadership to see what plans they have to change high school curriculum, but the chair of the education committee was not ready to speak on what legislation may put forward.

The Indiana General Assembly will reconvene on January 9.