INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence’s call in his State of the State speech to make vocational education a priority in every high school in Indiana struck a nerve with 75-year-old Bill Beach.
Since 2007, the founder of Beach Mold & Tool has tripled his work force to 600 at his manufacturing operations in New Albany, and sees more demand coming soon for the tools and plastic parts that his company makes.
But he can’t find enough qualified employees to work on his assembly lines or in some the supervisory and technical jobs that pay up to $30 an hour.
“We’re ready to hire people every day,” Beach said. “But our biggest challenge is finding people with the skills and with the work ethic to do the job.”
Beach knows the value of a good vocational education firsthand. As Pence recounted in his State of the State speech — to an audience that included Beach and his wife, Juanita — Beach was sent off for vocational training in high school by his father, who thought Beach was “good with his hands” but not smart enough to go to college.
Beach came out of that high school work-ready: He got a job as a machinist and later, with his wife, started his own company. An older brother who went off to college to get an engineering degree later came back to work for Beach.
Vocational education — in which students focus on skilled trades that require an increasing amount of technical know-how — can provide students “with a pathway to success,” Pence said in his State of State speech. “It can launch entrepreneurs, give kids a reason to finish high school and create a well-qualified work force that will encourage business to build here and grow here.”
Pence’s plan to boost career, vocational and technical education in Indiana high schools is driven by the “skills gap” that leaves employers like Beach frustrated. Despite a high unemployment rate — 8.2 percent in Indiana — there are manufacturing jobs that are going unfilled.