Skills gap a hot topic at economic outlook forum

Authored by Jim Langham on May 1, 2013

Adams Central School Superintendent Mike Pettibone said at a county Economic Outlook Forum on Tuesday that he was stunned in a visit to China with how students were trained and skilled to fit into that country’s work force.
“If you take 25 percent of the kids in China, it equals more than the population of North America,” said Pettibone.
“There is no doubt that we have a skills gap in this country,” continued Pettibone. “We’ve got quite a challenge; the skills gap is real. The question is, ‘what are we going to focus on,’” continued Pettibone. “What are the skills that we are talking about?”
State Representative Matt Lehman said that kids come out of schools with strong vocational training. He stressed that there are plenty of positions out there for students with proper skills training.
“Honda is looking for technicians to get the plant up and running,” observed Lehman. “We need skilled employees; they can work at Smith Brothers. It’s very seldom that you hear a valedictorian say, ‘I’m going to graduate and be a welder.’”
When asked about cuts in school funding, Lehman said that school funding is coming back.
“Sixty-five percent of our budget is related to school funding,” Lehman said. “As the economy comes back, school funding comes back.
“We have some excellent skilled trades in this county,” Lehman said. “Adams Central has its building trades class and students from South Adams go there. South Adams has its mechanic trades and Adams Central students go there. These classes are an important part of kids’ future.”
Brad Lichtenberger, vice president of operations for Smith Brothers of Berne, said company officials take the issue a step further; instead of just looking at a skills gap, they identify it as a culture gap.
“It’s an amazing thing, we have to go back and teach people how to be a team,” Lichtenberger said. “We have individuals in there that do not understand how to work as a team. One of our biggest challenges is that of working together as a team.”
Dane Wheeler, CFO of Adams Health Network, said that one of the biggest challenges in the health field is finding skilled workers in the middle level of employment.
“We always reach out to Bellmont health education. They come to the hospital and learn about health,” said Wheeler. “We still struggle; we can find doctors, etc., but we struggle with middle level.
“One of the problems today is that young people think they should start at the top,” continued Wheeler. “They need to realize that they have to start and work up and they will get there.”
Lehman said that it is obvious that there is a surge in interest in skilled trade training because of the boom in Ivy Tech campuses around Indiana.
“Most of them are involved in skills training and employee training. There is an increasing amount of state funding available to train in skilled trades,” commented Lehman.

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