On Aug. 8, CNN Money reporter Parija Kavilanz published an article, “Northeast Indiana: Hundreds of factory jobs go unfilled.” “Northeast Indiana” is in the headline, but this story does not reflect the reality written each day by community leaders across the 10 counties of northeast Indiana.
The opening line is cause for immediate suspicion: “Northeast Indiana has a peculiar problem.” The author makes a case that northeast Indiana is peculiar in manufacturing jobs not yet filled. The truth is certainly not unique or peculiar to our region or state. Employers are challenged to find skilled workers in the lines of those unfortunate to now be unemployed. Recessions produce painful results; lower-skilled jobs are eliminated and never replaced. The Great Recession has a wide and devastating wake now so common that it has its own name: “the skills gap.” It is a hard lesson we should have learned from history — technology and process improvements eliminate jobs and create others. While painful and unfortunate, this disruptive change is essential for the survival of American manufacturers in a not-so-friendly global marketplace.
Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, blogs, “While we read much about an employment shortage, we hear relatively little about a more fundamental and insidious challenge to our country’s prosperity: the skills gap. In Chicago, where the jobless rate is 9 percent, more than 100,000 positions remain unfilled — many of them gateways to the middle class. Across the country, there were more than 3.6 million job openings at the start of June, according to the Labor Department, many of them in fields increasingly central to our economy such as health care and information technology.”
The skills gap is not peculiar to northeast Indiana. What is peculiar and inspiring about the Hoosiers of our region is their resolve to chart a new course in history.
Not reported by CNN Money is the battle that this region has mounted for the past several years, even before the recession began. As early as 2006, leaders from the private, public and foundation sectors launched a collaborative effort through the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership called Vision 2020 to reclaim our place as a player in the global marketplace.
Not recorded for us by Kavilanz is the systematic and intentional restructuring of the work force development system to confront the skills gap head-on and to construct a “demand-driven” system responsive to the direct needs of regional employers.
Strangely, not mentioned is any record of the $20 million Lilly Endowment grant our community strategically focused on the talent pipeline via the Talent Initiative. Incredibly, she overlooked documenting the courage of public school leaders in northeast Indiana in launching six New Tech high schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Nowhere in the country outside of New York is there a higher concentration of this innovative approach to addressing the skills gap.
Recently, 100 leaders from the business, education, foundation and public sectors committed to the transforming effects of raising attainment rates to 60 percent for certified skills and two- and four-year degrees with labor market value — The Big Goal. This “Big Goal” is peculiar to our region and is essential to our future talent needs. Again, no record in the CNN article.
Also interesting is the failure to note the $24 million of state and federal funding over the last 36 months targeted on worker retraining in the region in core industries for 28,000 employees with a 70 percent placement rate. Not one word is afforded for the work of the Regional Workforce Investment Board and its alignment to the economic growth of the 10 counties of our region.
Absent from the article was any reference to the compelling strategy to do something about the skills gap. Our story is what we are doing to fight back to national prominence as a community that knows how to work together to confront big problems! Our story is about collaboration and solutions, not that we suffer the same wounds inflicted by a deep national recession.
If you Google “the city that saved itself,” you can read the 1982 story of a Midwest community that saved itself from devastating floods. Thousands of residents rallied to save homes and comfort victims of the disaster. That story was about Fort Wayne. The city that once saved itself has come together to emerge as the “the region that saved itself.”
And, why not mention tangible results? In 2011 alone, our region’s employment grew at twice the rate of Indiana and three times the national rate. Also in 2011, our metropolitan statistical area (Allen, Wells and Whitley counties) total real GDP grew at twice the national rate. In the same time period, the manufacturing GDP exploded at four times (yes, four times) the national rate. And to top it off, according to The Fiscal Times, we earned national headlines for growing employment at the highest rate among the nation’s largest 100 cities.
Despite our initial success, we know that our region has not arrived at a destination; we are engaged in a battle to realize our vision for the future. Our place will not be given; it will be earned. No, the CNN Money story is not our story. Our story is one of collaboration to confront our biggest challenges. We are the region that saved itself.