And few high school students — 15 percent at most — that do take vocational education courses in manufacturing or pre-engineering go on to pursue post-secondary training in those fields. In Indiana’s two-year colleges, only about 10 percent of students enrolled in a technical program of study complete their degree.
Pence, who’s been in office for less than two weeks, has made vocational education a priority for his administration.
He said the issue came to his attention on the campaign trail, when he heard from manufacturers that they were having a hard time filling positions that require specific job training, rather than a college degree.
The problem is significant: According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, about 7,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in December.
Also speaking at the summit was Mark Gerstle, vice president and chief administrative officer at Cummins Inc., a global manufacturer of engines which has its headquarters in Columbus. Gerstle said students are coming out of Indiana’s high schools and colleges ill-prepared to work in industries that require high-tech skills.
He said 30 percent of Cummins’ employees in Indiana were born and educated in other countries.
“We can’t find enough people in our own state to hire,” he said. “It shows what a sad state of affairs we’re in.”
Indiana’s new superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, also spoke at the summit, saying she agreed that schools needed to help students focus on vocational and technical careers, but offered few details on how to do that.
Ritz, a Democrat elected in November, was welcomed by the Republican Pence, who said they shared “common ground” in their interest in vocational education.
Ritz, a schoolteacher by training, said students needed to have opportunities like she did when she took part in a cadet-teaching program while in high school.
“I knew that was what’s for me and headed on my path,” Ritz said. “All kids, all careers need to have that kind of chance to explore at the high school level, to get that relevance to their coursework and to know where they might be headed.”