Event Information

GUEST COMMENTARY: Resolve to improve skills in Region's labor force

Date: 9/6/2016 through 9/6/2016

September 4, 2016 

Linda Woloshansky

Labor Day is certainly a time to lay low and relax, especially knowing that just around the corner comes the hectic pace of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Given my professional life has been focused on education, work and job training, Labor Day always has been a challenge for me to take it easy.

I intend to find time for my lovable grandkids and their parents. We might even take a leisurely walk on the tranquil shores of Lake Michigan. But eventually, my mind starts thinking about those who need to work on this weekend.


Police officers and firefighters. Retail employees at the mall, grocery stores, and gasoline stations. Labor Day for these folks is just another workday.

I find myself most concerned about our friends and neighbors who lost good-paying jobs during the Great Recession and have yet to feel the blessings of an economic recovery. I worry they don’t hear or read what I do on a regular basis.

The new American economy and the skills necessary for workers and their families is the focus of a fascinating book, “America Needs Talent.” The author is Jamie Merisotis, CEO and president of the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation. Merisotis writes that over the past decade, there has been a drastic change in our job force. The good news is 9 million jobs have been added since 2007 that require some sort of post-secondary education.

But during that same time frame, more than 6.3 million jobs held by high-school educated workers were lost and did not return.

Local steel mills are the clearest example of the upward skill shift. Jobs lost from layoffs are offset by jobs requiring at least two years of college.

Lumina has been banging the drum of an ongoing jobs transformation with a goal that demands our attention. That goal, which our Region subscribes to, is that by the year 2025, 60 percent of all adults in Northwest Indiana should have a post-secondary degree or industry certification.

Workers who fail to attain such credentials will find themselves in low-paying jobs that will not sustain their families.

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We need more area companies such as Task Force Tips, Centier Bank, PacMoore and Horizon Bank, just to name a few, that support employee training or tuition reimbursement as a viable way to improve worker skills.

They say it’s a win-win situation for the employee and their firm. Many even provide employees an incentive upon satisfactory completion of a class.

During the past 20 years, Task Force Tips, a manufacturer of firefighting equipment for customers around the world, has reimbursed its employees more than $200,000 for educational assistance in order to improve worker skills.

The Valparaiso-based firm also awards two scholarships to attend Vincennes University to aspiring high-school seniors passionate about a career in the machine trades field.

Another tactic to improve worker talent is Hammond’s College Bound program. Families that own a home in that city are eligible for up to $10,500 a year for four years to cover college expenses. Most recently, Michigan City decided to also implement College Bound for its residents.

We applaud companies and communities that value skilled workers and showcase that their actions speak louder than their words.

It is a long standing American tradition to associate resolutions with New Year’s Day. We promise to lose weight, to exercise more, to watch less TV and read more.

Let us begin a new tradition. Let's resolve on this Labor Day to acquire those skills that will improve the economic health of our families and our communities.

The old saying that a rising economic tide lifts all boats is no longer true. The beneficiaries of today’s economy are those workers with the talent and skills sought by employers.

Linda Woloshansky is president and CEO of the Center of Workforce Innovations. CWI also serves as the staff to the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The opinions are the writer's.

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