Job boom causes worker shortage

Gus Pearcy | The Lebanon ReporterDEVELOPING WORKFORCE: Lebanon High School senior Carter Ridge (left), Darrel Zeck with Indiana's Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, and Indiana Senator Brian Buchanan answer questions from the audience at Monday's Legislative Luncheon on the topic of workforce development. The event was moderated by the Indy Chamber's Chief Police Officer Mark Fisher (right).

According to the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, there are almost 34,000 employed residents in Boone County. The unemployment rate here is 2.8 percent. The chamber calculates that the eligible workforce participation rate of able-bodied residents actively or seeking employment is 70 percent compared with the state average of 64 percent. Times are so good for Boone County that several jobs are unfilled.

The Boone County Chamber of Commerce addressed workforce development at Monday’s Legislative Luncheon. Congresswoman Susan Brooks, State Senator Brian Buchanan and Darrel Zeck, the executive director of Indiana’s new Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, offered attendees federal and state programs designed to meet the growing need of workers.

“We do hear quite a bit from Boone County employers that they have a hard time attracting and filling the jobs they have open,” Chief Policy Officer with the Indy Chamber Mark Fisher said.

Fisher added that there are as many commuters coming into Boone County from the region as headed to Indianapolis. Statistics show that the average wage of all jobs offered in Boone County is $42,000, while the median home sale is $225,000.

“A lot of the jobs being created in Boone County go unfilled,” Fisher said, “because of a lack of workforce housing and adequate transportation.”

Brooks said there will be a rash of job jumping in the future because of the lack of qualified workers who are unemployed.

“There are more than 7.49 million job openings in America,” she said. “Why do I say America? Boone County is not just competing with Marion County, Hamilton County, Grant County. We’re competing with jobs all across this country.”

There are more than 1.2 million job openings than there are people looking for employment, she added.

Federally, there are a host of new G.I. benefits for veterans and a renewed Perkins Career and Technical Act, which has a new emphasis on work-based learning and $1.2 billion in grants to pay for it.

She also said there would be more funding to battle the opioid drug addiction crisis that is stealing many eligible workers from the workforce.

Buchanan told the audience that 58 percent of jobs do not require a college degree, but they do require some additional training. The Indy Chamber predicts that the top job openings in Boone County over the next five years will be material moving workers. He says there are several state programs and more than $1 billion in training programs through Governor Eric Holcomb’s Next Level job training employer grants.

“Since its establishment in 2017, over 450 employers have trained 6,377 people,” Buchanan said.

Work-based learning is being pushed by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Lebanon High School Senior Carter Ridge entered a work-based learning program to get training on CNC machining, one of the most sought after skill sets. Ridge participated in the Vincennes University program.

“I’m really thankful for the precision machine course,” Ridge said.

He plans to finish his degree at Vincennes to get a job that starts at a $50,000 annual salary.