Indiana has a problem. According to Gov. Eric Holcomb, there are almost 100,000 vacant jobs across the state; but this isn’t because there isn’t anyone to fill them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana’s unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent, slightly lower than the country’s 4.1 percent rate. These jobs are vacant because Hoosiers aren’t prepared to enter the industries these jobs are available in.
Holcomb hopes to fix this. In November, he announced the creation of a new state agency: The Office of Apprenticeship. Throughout Holcomb’s term, this office will ensure that high school students aren’t just being shown colleges to consider upon graduation, but that they are also being introduced to alternative possibilities.
Apprenticeships have an earn-while-you-learn model. A traditional program consists of 144 hours of class time and 2,000 hours of job training. The time it takes to complete an apprenticeship can vary, but apprenticeships involving building trades (e.g. carpenters, iron workers, plumbers) and industrial programs (e.g. advanced manufacturing, electrician, maintenance repair) — the most popular options in Indiana — take four to five years to complete. Upon completion, an apprentice will walk away with multiple credentials, certification from the Department of Labor, a journeyperson card and an associate degree for little to no cost, as most employers cover the cost of these programs.
Currently, many Indiana high school curriculums encourage students to seek post-secondary education and do little to help students who don’t believe college is for them. Devon Doss, executive director of Indiana Plan — a nonprofit that prepares minorities and disadvantaged workers to enter apprenticeships — experienced this when he was a student.
“A lot of young people think they have to choose college or the military, and if that doesn’t work they just go find a job somewhere. Indiana Plan shows them that they can have a career,” he said. Doss participated in Indiana Plan in 1995 and has worked as a union electrician for 19 years.
Created in 1970, Indiana Plan was born out of an executive order given by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The executive order mandated that discriminatory practices would no longer be allowed when hiring contractors. The order also required large construction companies to implement affirmative action plans.
Indiana Plan helps apprenticeship programs in Indianapolis and Gary diversify their applicant pools. The organization hosts a free two-week crash course on apprenticeships that includes info about construction safety, money management and basic math skills. The organization also helps Hoosiers get certifications to set their apprentice application apart. At the end of the course, Indiana Plan reaches out to its network of apprenticeship programs to alert them of the new crop of students looking for work. In the last three years, every student that has gone through the program has been offered a job.
In November, Ivy Tech Community College became a Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship sponsor to aid in the governor’s goal of increasing the number of skilled workers.
“We are working hand-in-hand with the Department of Labor to make this work,” said Teresa Hess, executive director of apprenticeship studies at Ivy Tech. “The college will now take on the administration challenges that companies often face. To register a company, there is some paperwork involved and you have to track apprenticeship hours. By us becoming a sponsor, that’s one of the things that will be eliminated from the company. This will especially help the smaller companies who may not have the capacity within their HR departments to complete the paperwork.”
This new model is currently being piloted in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with plans for it to roll out across the state in the spring. Through the new partnership, Ivy Tech is hoping to expand in non-traditional apprenticeship areas like health care and IT. For decades, the college has worked with industries in Indiana to aid in the apprenticeship process and to date has awarded over 13,000 apprenticeship degrees.
Apprenticeships have proven to be beneficial to the workforce and the economy. According to Ivy Tech, these programs reduce turnover, create a pipeline for skilled workers, increase competitive edge and ensure workers are trained to industry specifications.
“It’s a win-win situation for the employers and employees,” Hess said. “It’s not a job; it’s a career path, and it’s a high-paying, good career. I’m very excited that the state is taking strides to make apprenticeships more prevalent across Indiana.”