A Look Back at the Legislative Session: Some Major Accomplishments and a Few Missed Opportunities

statehouse-picMeaningful long-sought accomplishments mixed with a few missed opportunities and one highly unfortunate detour quickly tell the tale of the 2015 legislative session.

The Key Victories
The state’s common construction wage statute has unnecessarily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects over many decades. With the repeal finally in place, there will be open and fair bidding among all contractors for these projects.

Also gone: The hassle of filing personal property tax returns – or paying to have them filed – for what amounted to a very small tax liability for many small businesses. This will positively impact over half of all businesses in the state – some 150,000 in total. The throwback rule – really an unfair and inappropriate tax – is eliminated, too. It allowed for Indiana to tax whatever portion of your business income that wasn’t already taxed in Indiana or elsewhere.

Other Good Outcomes
We have a balanced two-year budget that puts as much emphasis as the revenue forecast would allow in prioritizing K-12 education, higher education and expanding funding for career and technical education – all Indiana Chamber priorities.

Another focal point of ours is water resources. The General Assembly took heed of our study last summer and passed two important next-step pieces of legislation that center on getting better data on what water resources exist throughout the state.

The Governor’s Regional Cities initiative recognizes and puts an appropriate focus on the important concept of quality of place. It acknowledges that population within our state and elsewhere is shifting from rural and less populated areas to urban and suburban areas. Similarly, we are in an era where young adults are increasingly choosing the place where they want to live and then looking for employment instead of letting the job dictate their location.

We were also satisfied that a reasonable conclusion was reached regarding the property assessments of “big box” retail stores. As it was initially introduced, it would have been devastating for many businesses by putting far too much specificity into law.

Missed Opportunities and One Detour
Conversely, there are a few decisions that stand out as particularly unfortunate that more or anything wasn’t done.

A work share program that would benefit employers and their workers as well as repealing the smoker’s bill of rights for new hires are still facing resistance from key individuals, which is preventing the issues from even getting a committee hearing. Likewise, regulating the practice called lawsuit lending, which translates to prolonged litigation and more costs for employers, continues to be stymied by two legislators.

An issue we hoped was going to be properly addressed was the dysfunction between the state superintendent and the State Board of Education. The best solution and one we have advocated for the last 30 years would be to let the Governor appoint the state superintendent like he does all other agency heads. But we ended up with something not even a middle ground. Instead, Senate Bill 1 is a rather convoluted piece of legislation that does nothing in the immediate term to remedy the situation in the least.

And then there was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the historical fallout and the “fix”. We were pleased by the legislative response to specify that in no way could that statute be used to discriminate against individuals or different groups of Hoosiers. We anticipate there will be efforts by legislators to further strengthen that stance next year.

Critical Connections: Team Effort a Must for Student Success

batesvilleAndy Allen, Batesville High School principal, slides into a desk in an empty English classroom and tells the story of a top student who learned after two days of a mentorship program at the local hospital that a medical career was not for her.

“She has spent the rest of the year on the health care administration side. What a great experience for her,” Allen reveals. “And all that occurred outside our walls. She has one block of time for us, 90 minutes every other day. We say, ‘Go to the hospital and work with our great partners there.’ ”

Kim Ryan, a senior vice president with Hillenbrand, Inc. and president of the company’s Batesville Casket Company platform, punctuates the beginning and end of her keynote presentation to a group of educators and business leaders with the following: “Small communities will determine our futures based on the workforce we create for ourselves today.”

Read the rest of the story in the latest BizVoice .

VIDEO: A Look at the Promise Indiana Initiative

Clint Kugler of the Wabash County YMCA discusses the Promise Indiana Initiative. The initiative is helping boost college savings accounts and cultivating a fresh approach to education in the state.

Read a feature on the program in the latest edition of BizVoice.

Vincennes University Partners to Help Bridge Skills Gap

vuBusiness is good at Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (SIA) in Lafayette. The plant is expanding, with production of the Impreza set to begin in late 2016.

But there’s a speed bump fast approaching that could cause SIA and similar companies across the state to tap the brakes, if not come to a devastating halt.

The “middle-skills gap” is troubling some of Indiana’s biggest industries: advanced manufacturing, distribution and logistics, and the skilled trades, to name a few. Middle-skills jobs are those that call for more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree – and there is a critical shortage of workers with these credentials.

Brad Rhorer, manager of associate development at SIA, says highly-technical positions that require a certification or two-year degree are the most difficult for the company to fill.

“The industrial maintenance positions are very in-depth in knowledge and experience, and a lot of people do not have (skills in) those crafts any longer,” he emphasizes. “And we’ve got an aging workforce, so retirements are looming at the same time we’re expanding. It’s the perfect storm.”

A potential solution, some say, is to better coordinate education curriculum and work-based learning with real-world employer needs.

Read the full story in BizVoice.

Engineering and Business: Collaboration in Education

Brooks G 3047_head_shotThis post from Earl D. Brooks II, Ph.D., president of Trine University and member of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce board of directors, originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

The rapidly changing economic environment illustrates the importance of universities to provide both engineering and business programs with innovative curriculum. Such programs are essential because these students will be responsible for engineering, technology and business initiatives in the 21st century.

With that in mind, Trine University has created the College of Engineering and Business to focus on fast-changing economic needs while harnessing opportunities that exist and providing broader educational options.

It is imperative universities respond to circumstances within the contemporary climate of education. More high school graduates are entering college with college credits already earned, requiring universities to develop nontraditional options. While this can reduce student debt, we think universities should also strive to offer creative and unique curriculum to provide an even broader education. At Trine, students bringing credits can earn a bachelor degree in just three years, or opt to earn a bachelor degree and a master degree in four years in the 3 + 1 program.

Trine created three-year bachelor programs and went a step further to offer a one-year master’s degree program for both engineering and business students who choose to enter the 3 + 1 program. These students may earn a bachelor degree in any engineering major in three years and earn a Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) in one year. Business concepts are the nucleus of the MSEM curriculum.

In comparison, students may earn a bachelor degree in any business major in three years and a Master of Business Administration in one year. The MBA curriculum includes engineering fundamentals. Both programs promote the cross-education model of preparing business and engineering students to collaborate and understand each other’s responsibilities for the success of the companies they serve.

Employers tell us there is a gap in the educations of engineering and business students entering the workforce. By responding to this concern, universities can better prepare their students for successful careers.

Engineers are excellent at developing devices and creating technology to advance their employers’ products and/or services, but often they are not equally adept at understanding business processes. Changes in the economic environment demand engineers possess business skills too. Engineering professionals of tomorrow must be self-sufficient business units, regardless of their position. The blending of engineering and business studies should foster this vision.

Traditionally, universities teach engineering knowledge and skills around manufacturing, technology support and product design. In Trine’s College of Engineering and Business, we teach these methods with the additional curriculum to build entrepreneurial skills crucial to develop economically relevant opportunities for business and technology. For example, engineering students of all disciplines can minor in business, preparing them for roles in engineering management, cost accounting, resource acquisition and leveraging, and financial risk management.

Similarly, business students must understand how engineering operations work and how successful engineering and technology companies operate. The curriculum for business students is enhanced by engineering-based courses on innovation, technology planning, development processes and patents. They must also understand the engineers’ perspective along with their problem-solving process and technical limitations they encounter. Businesses cannot sell goods engineers cannot produce and engineers should not produce goods businesses cannot sell.

Universities with a business school model that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit can promote initiatives and experiences to benefit business and engineering students. In Trine’s case, the Rhoads Center for Entrepreneurship along with Innovation One, an innovative service delivery framework within Trine, give business and engineering students the ability to work and learn together. Students team in a collaborative, hands-on environment to develop ideas and concepts along with business plans and more through private-sector projects secured by Innovation One.

Forging relationships between higher education and business and industry benefits students and employers. Such partnerships pave the way for internships, cooperative education and full-time employment. These opportunities enhance experiential learning, raise awareness of employers’ needs and expectations, and expand employment options for graduates.

Keeping pace with today’s fast-moving technologies and economy is the primary motivator in combining engineering and business studies. It is the educator’s responsibility to use a holistic approach to prepare students to be career-ready so they can make an immediate impact.

A Day to Remember in Evansville

evilleArmed with my Starbuck’s latte, I stepped out into the cold. It was mid-January and I was headed to Evansville to conduct interviews for our education/workforce development issue of BizVoice® magazine.

I started the day around 7 a.m. and didn’t pull into my driveway until shortly after 7 p.m. that evening. You know what? It was worth it. In fact, it was unforgettable.

First up: Ivy Tech’s College Connection Coach initiative. The program places Ivy Tech employees in high schools to promote a culture of college attainment and to provide career counseling and advisement. Launched last fall, it stresses collaboration with guidance counselors, administrators and teachers.

Carrie Feltis, a College Connection Coach in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, spends two days a week at both Central and Harrison High Schools. While visiting Central, I watched her interact with a senior named Lindsey, with whom she’s worked closely. What a rapport! They shared laughs – lots of them – and proudly conveyed Lindsey’s many accomplishments. Among them: She’ll be the first member of her family to graduate from high school.

Next was a visit to Ivy Tech Community College-Southwest/Wabash Valley Region hosted by chancellor Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former state legislator and Evansville mayor. He passionately expressed the importance of the program and its potential impact in leading students down a path that includes postsecondary education.

Then it was time to dive into my next story. It was time to step into Signature School.

Signature, the state’s first charter school, is nationally recognized for its challenging curriculum and unique culture. Located in downtown Evansville, its close proximity to libraries, the YMCA, the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and more provides the backdrop for learning beyond the doors of Signature’s two buildings.

Executive Director Jean Hitchcock beamed as we stepped into dynamic classrooms and met the people who create Signature’s success. The teachers are passionate. The students are spirited. It’s a tight-knit team that lives by the Signature Way.

If there’s one word to sum up my impressions of Signature, it’s this: brilliant.

Brilliant minds. Brilliant opportunities. That’s Signature.

Inaugural Career Ready Season to Kick Off in April

careerreadyIndiana’s Career Ready campaign (formerly KnowHow2GOIndiana) takes place each April through July, with real-world advice and practical experiences to help students prepare for their future careers. Efforts will focus on career sectors that are projected to be in high demand for Indiana’s economy (advanced manufacturing; agriculture, agribusiness and food; healthcare and life sciences; information technology and clean energy technology; and logistics).

Beginning with the official statewide kick-off week (April 20-24), Career Ready aims to:

  • Educate Hoosier students about the range of career options in Indiana;
  • Expose Hoosier students of all ages to meaningful work-and-learn experiences;
  • Equip Hoosier students with the education and skills required to succeed in their careers and meet Indiana’s economic needs.

Get involved
Career Day (April 24) is an opportunity to get in the schools in your region and share your experience. Whether you present about your job, the sector you work in or employability skills, students need to hear directly from employers.

Complete this short, five-question survey by Friday, March 13 to tell the Commission for Higher Education about your current efforts and how you’d like to partner with schools in your region. Please note that survey information may be shared with your local school districts.

Career Ready is an initiative of Learn More Indiana, led by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Visit the web site at CareerReadyIndiana.org.

Postsecondary Pathways Events Draw Attention to Regional Skill Needs

16012978Educators, employers and community members gathered at the Ivy Tech Muncie campus last week to discuss career and training opportunities in manufacturing and construction at the Postsecondary Pathways event, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co., and co-hosted by the Indiana Youth Institute, CELL, Indiana Department of Workforce Development and the Indiana Chamber.

Rick Barnett, VP Engineering at Indiana Marujun, LLC, summed up the need for the convening in the first panel discussion:

“Students are starting to see the value of manufacturing and seeing it as a viable career opportunity,” said Barnett. “But we’re still not where we need to be.”

Barnett went on to add that Indiana Marujun has not been fully staffed in the maintenance department as long as he can remember. Current employees are putting in great amounts of overtime to keep up with demand.

Drew Dubois with DuPont Pioneer also said they struggle to find maintenance workers, as well as computer and technical skills. He said their biggest challenge, however, is finding employees with soft skills (accountability, creativity and passion).

Indiana Marujun recently developed an apprenticeship program to develop their future talent. The U.S. Department of Labor runs Registered Apprenticeship, a system that provides the opportunity for workers seeking high-skilled, high-paying jobs and for employers seeking to build a qualified workforce. Each state has an apprenticeship office; for more information, visit the web site.

Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann gave the opening keynote, encouraging employers to offer more work-and-learn opportunities, such as internships, and for educators to share multiple “Plan A’s” with their students. Included in the event was a tour of Magna Powertrain, a supplier for the global automotive industry with focus in powertrain design, development, testing and manufacturing, that employs hundreds of associates at two locations in Muncie.

Other Postsecondary Pathways events were held in Lafayette, Odon and Batesville. Additional events are planned for the fall. Visit the Indiana Youth Institute’s web site to find dates and registration information for these future opportunities.

Learn more about the participating businesses at the Region 6 Postsecondary Pathways event:

IndianaSkills.com aims to bridge the gap between the types of training and credentials people are pursuing in Indiana and the skills being requested by our state’s employers. The site provides information on employer demand for specific jobs, skills and certifications compared to the supply of graduates completing short-term training (two years or less beyond high school) related to these jobs, skills and certifications.

State Superintendent Needs to be Appointed, On Same Page with Governor

It’s about good public policy. It’s about what’s best for students and teachers.

For nearly 30 years, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has supported having the state superintendent of public instruction be an appointed position. We did this when Republicans and Democrats controlled the governor’s office. And we have been far from alone.

In years past, the state Democratic and Republican parties have included it in their platforms. And in 2004, both Gov. Joe Kernan and challenger Mitch Daniels had it among their campaign proposals.

It may be surprising to some, but the Indiana State Teachers Association used to support having an appointed superintendent. However, the group changed its tune once its 2012 endorsed candidate, Glenda Ritz, was elected.

The Indiana Chamber has remained consistent with its position and believes politics should be put aside.

Having an appointed superintendent came oh so close to happening in the late 1980s during Gov. Robert Orr’s administration – passing the House and falling only one vote short in the Senate. Since then it’s mainly been a parade of governors and superintendents not on the same page on major education policy (regardless of which party held either office). That situation doesn’t serve the state, students, parents or teachers well.

Our governor campaigns on education issues and sets an education agenda. In order to be held accountable for that, he needs to be able to appoint the superintendent of his choosing. That way, we can be assured there is alignment with respect to education policy. Hoosiers can then hold the governor truly responsible for education and factor that into his performance assessment come election time.

Appointing a superintendent also means the person chosen comes from a broader pool of qualified candidates. And the selection should then be based on the person’s education and leadership merits, not political backing.

Many have known for a long time that the current system isn’t conducive to getting things done. That’s only been exacerbated the last two years with the divergent philosophical opinions of Gov. Mike Pence and Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Too often this has resulted in the State Board of Education at a crossroads, if not a standstill. That’s entirely unacceptable.

What’s more, the superintendent, as head of the state Department of Education, should be treated like every other agency leader. We don’t elect the superintendent of the Indiana State Police, commissioner of the Department of Revenue and so forth. All of those officials are appointed at the discretion of the governor. The Department of Education should be the same.

Indiana is already behind the times – and more than 35 other states – in acknowledging that an appointed superintendent serves citizens best. Our preference would be that realization happen sooner rather than later. We recognize the political sensitivities and pressures currently in play – though we don’t agree with bowing to them – and want to see serious discussion and action taken on the issue this legislative session.

Non-Union Teacher Contract Bargaining Requires Flexibility

Finding, retaining and empowering great teachers must be a top priority for Indiana schools. However, the state’s teacher bargaining law ties the hands of administrators and forces the union-bargained contract and all its controls on every teacher in a district, whether or not they choose to even join the union.

Senate Bill 302, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon), would allow school districts to negotiate employment contracts directly with individual teachers or groups of teachers that choose not to join their union, instead of being forced to negotiate exclusively within the bargaining agreement and impose those same contract provisions on all teachers.

Today, schools and districts cannot recruit superb educators and those with specific skills needed (e.g. STEM, foreign languages, etc.) and cannot be offered higher pay or other incentives. And in districts with teacher shortages, there is no room to negotiate a contract to hire a teacher that might be needed to fill an important gap. There is no flexibility – it’s the union’s contract or nothing, even in a right-to-work state like Indiana.

Teachers are professionals and should be treated like it. They have the right to be a union member and bargain collectively should they so choose, but they also should have the right to negotiate their own contracts. If we want better teachers in this state, we need to encourage and support excellence.

The bill would free teachers from a longstanding stranglehold on contracts, allow for excellence to be rewarded and recruited, and stop treating all teachers like interchangeable parts under the same contract terms regardless of skills, performance or a school’s needs.

Please take a moment to send a message to your state senator and the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee to ask for support of Senate Bill 302 to provide for more flexibility for school districts and teachers.