News and Tribune

February 20, 2013

Senator: Skilled workers needed

Donnelly touring state to help create a more skilled work force


JEFFERSONVILLE — Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is touring the state and making a push to create a more skilled Hoosier work force.

Donnelly is again sponsoring the America Works Act, which would designate existing federal funding toward educational programs that would allow workers to acquire industry-recognized credentials. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Donnelly sponsored the bill along with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., in 2011. The bill died in committee.

But another push to build a more skilled work force is underway.

Donnelly’s first stop on his “Closing the Skills Gap Tour” Tuesday was at American Commercial Lines, Inc’s manufacturing segment, Jeffboat.

“When I was here about a month ago it was clear one of the great needs we have in Indiana ... is to continue to increase the skills of our workers,” he said. “The more we can do to train people to get them to a place where they can walk into Jeffboat on day one and be able to have the trades and skills necessary ... the better off we’ll be as a state. We’ll be more attractive to employers.”

Due to the skills gap, an estimated 600,000 high-skill jobs across the country remain vacant, according to a press release sent out by Donnelly ahead of his visit. 

Along with his visit to Jeffersonville, Donnelly’s tour will take him to five communities across Indiana. Other stops Tuesday included Evansville’s branch of Ivy Tech Community College and the College of Technology at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. The senator visited Eli Lily in Indianapolis Monday and plans to visit Aptera in Fort Wayne on Wednesday.

He explained by passing the America Works Act, federal dollars would be used to make sure that people have the skills and talents necessary to be able to contribute from day one at a workplace.   

“There’s a need for even more workers here and we see that throughout our state,” Donnelly said.

The need for a skilled labor force extends beyond the manufacturing work behind done at Jeffboat. He cited places like technology companies in Indianapolis and a medical device manufacturer in Warsaw as other companies that are in need of more skilled workers.

“What we’ll be able to is see for every dollar how is that dollar going to be used to increase employment to increase the skill levels of workers,” Donnelly said. “Ivy Tech is a perfect fit for that, some of the vocational schools around here would be a perfect fit as well. It would be targeted at those places that create provable skills and provable employment opportunities,” he said of where the funding will be directed.

With a more skilled work force, the expectation is that jobs and companies would be enticed to locate in Indiana.

“We’ve had situations here in our state, because there weren’t enough skilled workers, a number of employers have had to bid back-and-forth for the people who are there,” Donnelly said. 

If a more skilled work force was in place in the state, not only would more companies and businesses locate in Indiana, but the pay would also be more competitive, he argued.

“So, I think the wage piece in large measure for manufacturing jobs like this takes care of itself, and our job is to try to make sure we have value added to people,” Donnelly said. “And when they have those value-added skills, they have the opportunity to have two or three job offers as opposed to hoping that they can find something somewhere.”

He was also asked about the request made by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address to raise the national minimum wage to $9 and whether or not that would play a role in directing federal funds to train and locate a more skilled work force.

“What we’re trying to do first and foremost is get the skills level up,” Donnelly said. “What we see is when the skills level goes up is that the wages go up with them, so it’s almost a situation that takes care of itself.”