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July 9, 2013

Searching for some German engineering: Indiana might look to Germany’s vocational system for help closing skills gap

INDIANAPOLIS —

Indiana’s effort to close the “skills gap” between what employers need and what job applicants offer might be inspired by a German education model that combines a high school education with on-the-job training.

On Monday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence met with Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Ammon, who launched the German-backed Skills Initiative last year to help states improve their vocational education programs to make students work-ready when they graduate

The Skills Initiative program touts Germany’s dual system of vocational education that allows students to earn their high school degrees while working as apprentices in specific occupations. 

Echoing what he said he hears from German companies doing business in the U.S., Ammon told an audience that included Pence, “America is a wonderful place to do business. But the lack of a properly trained workforce is where the bottleneck is.” 

The message resonated with Pence, who wants to redesign the way vocational education is delivered in Indiana’s high schools and return vocational education to what he called its “proper place of prominence.” 

Pence said the gap between what employers need and the skills that job applicants can offer is “absolutely real” in Indiana.

“What people don’t realize is that while we have more than a  quarter-million Hoosiers out of work, we have tens of thousands of jobs that are going unfilled,” Pence said. Many of those unfilled jobs are in Indiana’s manufacturing industry and require high-tech skills, but not a four-year college degree. 

Indiana spends more than $100 million on vocational education for high school students, but Pence thinks the money needs to be better spent. Earlier this year, he signed legislation creating regional “works councils” tasked with partnering local schools with regional employers to develop vocational-education curriculum that will better serve both their needs.  

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