There are two myths about the current state of the Indiana economy.
The first myth is that our economy is stalled with no hope of forward motion. The second is that the only way to move our economy forward is by ensuring that more Hoosiers earn bachelor's degrees.
Like most myths, there's a seed of truth in these statements. However, in the short time that I've served as president of Ivy Tech Corporate College, I've learned that these myths are quite misleading — and it's critical to our future that we address the truths behind these myths.
First, I know with certainty that our economy is not irrevocably stalled. A lot of work will be required to get things moving in the right direction for sure, but there's plenty of evidence demonstrating that the potential for significant growth exists.
When I talk to employers around the state, I hear them speak of the opportunities they see on the horizon, due in part to Indiana's commitment to being business friendly. They talk about being ready to grow and add product lines, and — most importantly — they acknowledge a need to hire more employees.
What's holding them back? Not a stubborn economy, but a lack of workers equipped with 21st century skills.
To the second myth, it's certain that increased bachelor's degree attainment among Hoosiers would help Indiana's economy — no question there. Currently, Indiana ranks 41st in the nation in college degree attainment, and the skills employers are looking for — the skills that would allow the growth they see on the horizon — do require a college degree.
The problem is that we too often limit our definition of college to the four-year residential experience. While bachelor's degree graduates are certainly needed in some areas, the employers I've met with express the need for a broader continuum of skills than those afforded by a bachelor's degree alone.
In short, many of the jobs they would create — if the supply were to meet their demand for workers — require the science, technology, engineering and math skills that come with many associate degrees, technical certificates, and certificate programs. Furthermore, their incumbent workforce — including those who already possess a college degree — often need training in those same areas.
As quickly as technology changes, it's no longer guaranteed that a college degree will remain relevant throughout the course of career. All of this adds up to bachelor's degree being just part of the solution, not a solution unto itself.
At Ivy Tech Corporate College, we're committed to helping solve the challenges employers face when it comes to their need for ongoing workforce training. The reason I took this job, in fact, is that I believe Ivy Tech Corporate College can provide this missing piece in Indiana's economic recovery.
I also recognize, however, that just as bachelor's degrees aren't a magic bullet, training the incumbent workforce alone will not be sufficient.
The truth is, Indiana's economy can grow — if our skilled workforce grows in a way that's reflective of employer needs. Making this a reality begins with rejecting the myths that hold us back. In fact, the most certain way to make these myths reality is by reinforcing them instead of focusing on what matters most.
If instead we're optimistic about our prospects for growth and we invest in the education and training resources most likely to make that growth happen, we'll be well positioned to emerge stronger than we've ever been.