Job cred: Ascend Indiana works to boost talent pipeline | Crain's Indianapolis

Job cred: Ascend Indiana works to boost talent pipeline

Jason Kloth, CEO of workforce initiative Ascend Indiana and former Indianapolis deputy mayor for education, said more workers with post-secondary degrees are needed. | Photo courtesy of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership

Employers in Central Indiana within the next decade will need 215,000 more workers with post-secondary education, according to a workforce initiative to be set in motion Tuesday morning.

Ascend Indiana will be the sixth economic development initiative under the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, perhaps known best for BioCrossroads and TechPoint. CICP announced the workforce development initiative in mid-2015.

Unlike other CICP initiatives, Ascend will cut across all industry sectors to survey employer needs and work with corporate and community groups to build out the talent pipeline. Ascend’s CEO is former Indianapolis deputy mayor Jason Kloth.

Initially, Ascend is working with one company whom Kloth will not yet identify.

“It is very practical in its approach. In the early stage it will be company-to-company,” but eventually be scalable, he added. “We will do this by seeking immediate solutions for employers.”

Much of that involves identifying their workforce needs and then working with various educational institutions, Kloth explained.

Ascend can draw upon a team of 26 people working in various CICP initiatives, plus hundreds of CEOs in the region engaged with CICP already. The partnership expects that additional executives, who are starting to feel the worker pinch, will be highly motivated to cooperate.

So far, Ascend has raised more than $7 million in seed funding from corporate and foundation sources, along with help from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Details about funding were to be discussed at an announcement at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Skyline Club.

Longer-term, Ascend could use a fee model to cover its costs, Kloth said.

There’s a certain urgency in the undertaking.

CICP leaders point to data showing that only about 42 percent of the 1.2 million working-age adults in the region have some type of “meaningful” post-secondary credential. But to achieve a state goal of 60 percent obtaining a post-secondary credential by 2025, the ranks of this group in the metro area would have to grow 18 percent.

That’s a daunting challenge, given that the current growth rate averaged just 1.3 percent over the past four years, according to Lumina Foundation. The target amounts to training up a worker base nearly equivalent in size to the population of Fort Wayne.

Kloth said he was struck by the problem while deputy mayor, when his duties included overseeing 40 charter schools. One employer interested in creating 400 jobs needed access to large numbers of workers steeped in computer science skills, Kloth recalled.

“We had no turnkey solution to address that,” Kloth said.

“It kind of Illustrates one of the major economic development challenges we have in the city.”

One of the problems is too few students enroll in higher education: only 62 percent of Indianapolis high school seniors enroll in some type of post-secondary learning. Even then, about 25 percent need remedial coursework, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Among career clusters not seeing enough credentialed workers are logistics, manufacturing, information technology and financial services. The health sector is in better shape, but there are still worries – even in Indiana.

The state's health and life sciences category, more broadly, needs to fill 12,000 jobs through openings expected annually through 2022, Crain's Indianapolis previously reported.

Many of those shortages are due to retirements and greater use of information technology for which existing workers aren’t prepared.

“Surveys are very bullish about the economy, but in most cases executives who were surveyed were concerned about how they’re going to fill those roles,” David Johnson, president and CEO of CICP, told Crain’s Indianapolis in May.

And as the life sciences sector illustrates, these are jobs that pay well: an average of $97,000, according to BioCrossroads.

That’s particularly important in Indiana, where per capita income as of 2010 was 14 percent lower than in the nation as a whole. In fact, Indiana ranked a dismal 38th place among states.

Among Ascend’s goals:

● Create an online portal for sharing job needs.

● Recruit at campuses to help students find positions that meet their needs and qualifications.

● Help existing workers move up the career ladder through low-cost training options.

● Help underemployed workers find training opportunities and connect with employers.

● Reach out to policymakers with regional workforce analysis Ascend will compile.

October 25, 2016 - 6:08am