By Jesselyn Bickley
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Indiana House joined forces Thursday in a call for a new plan meant to match training and education to the skills needed in Indiana's work force.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said they are teaming up on the issue because Indiana's unemployment rate - at more than 8 percent - is just too high.
"We must make every effort to align our job training and educational efforts to available and prospective Hoosier jobs," Bosma said.
The leaders endorsed House Bill 1002, a bill co-authored by Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, and Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, both small business owners. It would create an Indiana Career Council to oversee a new, statewide effort to bring government and business leaders together to work on the state's workforce issues.
The bill addresses issues that have been on both the Republican and Democratic agendas and Pelath said it was natural for the caucuses - which are often on opposite sides of tough issues - to come together. He said that distinguishes state lawmakers from Congress.
"The reason Washington is broken is because they can't accomplish the things they do agree on," Pelath said.
HB 1002 - which will get a legislative hearing Tuesday in the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform - lays out the membership and duties of the new career council. The governor would be the group's chairman and its members would include other public officials as well as representatives of manufacturing, business and labor.
The legislation charges the council with ensuring that the training and education Hoosiers are receiving match the skills needed by employers - now and in the future.
"The skills gap in Indiana is very real," said Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar.
He said there's nothing more important than helping Hoosiers be more productive, which will help them move off of government services.
The bill is somewhat similar to a proposal by Gov. Mike Pence to boost vocational education in the state. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 465, which is based on the governor's plan.
That bill would allow the governor to divide the state into districts and appoint members to sit on work councils for each district. Those groups would prepare and submit an evaluation of the career, technical and vocational education opportunities available to high school students in its region.
The council would then develop - with the approval of the state board of education - a plan to match high school programs with the skills needed by businesses in the region.
Bosma said Thursday that he and the governor briefly discussed the two bills and plan to work together on the issue and said, "We both suspect there's going to be a linkage by the time we're done."
Jesselyn Bickley is a reporter for The Statehouse File, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.