Holcomb keeps focus on improving Hoosier job skills

By Erica Irish

INDIANAPOLIS—Gov. Eric Holcomb sharpened his focus on workforce development as he touted Indiana’s record-breaking job growth in his second State of the State address Tuesday.

Even as he celebrated the state’s successes in attracting new business and jobs, he highlighted plans to create opportunities for Hoosiers who lack the training or education to fill new positions.

“Our greatest challenge is that too many Hoosiers lack the education and skills for the jobs that are here today and being created tomorrow—nearly all of which require post-secondary education,” Holcomb said in the address.

Gov. Eric Holcomb shakes hands with Sen. Ed Charbonneau while he makes his entrance during the State of the State. Photo by Zoie Richey, TheStatehouseFile.com

Holcomb said there are 85,000 jobs waiting to be filled. That total is reported without the expected 30,000 job contribution from the Indiana Economic Development Commission and additional openings from newly retired Baby Boomers.

The governor wants 25,000 of the 700,000 Hoosiers who never finished college and 30,000 of the 475,000 citizens without a high school diploma to return and finish their educations. He also will implement a new state apprenticeship program for those not interested in traditional education.

To see long-term growth, however, Holcomb said the state will target children.

“We must ensure that every Hoosier student receives an education infused with STEM subjects, critical thinking skills and the intellectual curiosity that prepares them for lifelong learning,” he said.

For the thousands of Indiana children in the care of the Department of Child Services—a total now greater than the states of Ohio and Illinois combined—Holcomb said his office, with advice from outside experts, will assess the agency.

“I’ll state right now: There’s no one who cares more about Hoosier children than I do, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of our agency and its mission,” he said.

The initiative follows the December resignation of former DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura, who took issue with what she saw as a lack of funding and support for the agency. Holcomb has appointed Terry Stigdon to replace Bonaventura.

Though no clear action-plan for the DCS was introduced by Holcomb, members of the Republican party say correcting its problems are a top priority.

“The suggestion that people don’t care and don’t take it seriously is dead flat wrong,” Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said in response to Holcomb’s address.

House Speaker Brian Bosma gets ready to introduce Gov. Eric Holcomb during the State of the State. Photo by Zoie Richey, TheStatehouseFile.com

Leaders of Democratic lawmakers, however, fear separating the legislature from the state’s investigations into the DCS will prevent progress from being made. ­

“I do not feel the Indiana General Assembly should just pass on its obligation to all the people of this state, and stand idly by while these investigations are conducted without oversight and in private. The Legislature needs to be more involved than simply getting reports,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said in a statement.

Holcomb also focused on children in the earliest stages of life. In the address, he introduced his plan for a Levels of Care program to reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate.

“We can and we will save more of them,” he said. “Our infant mortality rate is a direct lens into the overall health of Hoosiers.”

Last year, 623 infants died, Holcomb said, adding he wants that number to drop by 2024 until Indiana has the lowest rate in the Midwest.

Underlying each of Holcomb’s points was Indiana’s ongoing substance-abuse epidemic.

“We all know, a healthy Indiana depends first and foremost on the health of our people,” he said.

Improving Hoosier health, Holcomb said, means requiring physicians to report more information on opioid prescriptions and overdoses as well as expanding the number of opioid treatment locations from 18 to 27.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Holcomb’s address held little promise for those most in need.

“Leaders rise to meet challenges. Governor Holcomb stepped back,” Zody said in a press release. “Hoosiers need more than a caretaker, they need a governor who acts with urgency.”

Kirsten Nielsen contributed to this report. She and Erica Irish are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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