Workforce development emerges as number one legislative issue

By Adrianna Pitrelli
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s legislative leaders from both parties and the governor share one big objective for the 2018 legislative session – workforce development.

“We will work closely with the governor and I know our Senate colleagues have been looking at this all summer,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s yearly legislative preview event. “We have to take important measures to ensure every student is ready for college or a career.”

Caucus leaders participate in a discussion at the Indiana Chamber’s yearly legislative preview. Each caucus acknowledged workforce development is a top priority. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com

Monday’s event was hosted by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to talk about key issues for the 2018 legislative session. Leaders of the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate joined the discussion to talk about their priorities for the year — many of which line up with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s agenda, which was outlined earlier in the month.

“We need to build a stronger, healthier workforce that is trained and knows how to grow so they can get the wages they deserve,” said Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, House minority leader. “Wages, salaries and household incomes are not growing at the rate we’d expect.”

Healthcare, Pelath said, also plays into workforce development.

“If you don’t have a healthy workforce, you don’t have the workforce you should have,” he said. “We need to explore solutions to maintain health insurance and maintain lives.”

While Pelath accepts the healthcare issue is based in Washington, D.C., he encourages Hoosier lawmakers to stay informed about what’s happening.

One of the chamber’s priorities is supporting a requirement that all primary and secondary students take computer science courses. That recommendation falls in line with Holcomb’s plan to require all schools to offer computer science courses.

“As we increase the number of technology jobs in the tech sector, it becomes even more important to have required STEM coursework — especially in computer science,” said Caryl Auslander, vice president of education, workforce development and federal affairs at the Indiana Chamber. “This will better prepare students and help improve the skills gap.”

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the addition of computer science coursework in the curriculum is a smart move and will allow for students to be more well-rounded.

“I think it will help workforce,” Lanane said. “I think there is a way, maybe, the state can engage some institutions of higher learning.”

Adding more practical classes to state requirements for graduation, will give students more opportunities because they will have more skills to make them ready for the workforce, said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek. Hershman, the Senate majority leader, stepped in for President Pro Tem David Long.

However, he said half the battle of getting a job is making sure people can pass a drug test — what he calls a “big problem of the state,” and a problem all lawmakers will continue to address in 2018.

Finding a solution to have more reliable supplies of water in the state is also a hot topic for the chamber as well as both sides of the aisle — and Bosma said it’s a problem he hopes to see fixed in less than six years.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I think we are in general consensus that there’s a problem,” he said. “Some wanted a water solution with a road solution and I said you can only deal with one crises at a time.”

In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed legislation to increase gasoline taxes as part of the plan to boost funding for infrastructure repairs.

Seen as both an environmental issue and an economic development issue, the chamber said a plan is needed for the state to effectively manage its water resources. Water prices are steadily rising for Hoosiers because of over usage and old infrastructure, which causes leaks.

“Our state’s economy is growing more diverse, but we always will make things,” Auslander said. “And it often takes large, reliable supplies of water to do so.”

Other key issues the chamber supports includes raising the smoking age from 18 to 21 and screening prospective employees for tobacco use.

Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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