Teresa Lubbers column sig

We’re at an important moment in time for Indiana. Unemployment in our state is at just over 3 percent — lower than our neighboring states, lower than the national rate (3.5 percent) — and at its lowest point in nearly 20 years.

Opportunities for career success and advancement are plentiful in Indiana.

As a state, we must seize the opportunity to prepare for the future, even as we celebrate the successes of our current economy.

We don’t have a crystal ball. Much about the future is unknown, but here’s what we can expect: a diversifying economy infused with technology in every sector; increased automation and developing artificial intelligence; a need for technical skills to get the job done paired with the transferrable skills of creative thinking, communication and problem solving.

Too often, there is a tendency to create false choices between education and workforce. In reality, doing what’s best for people also drives and grows our state’s economy.

Increasingly, education occurs throughout a lifetime. Planning for the future of work means conversations about education and workforce must happen simultaneously. How do we make sure those in the pipeline today have the skills and abilities to thrive?

The answer must be robust educational pathways and finding the right fit for every Hoosier. This has to include encouraging adults to re-skill themselves for the new economy.

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, with a mission of addressing current and future education and employment needs for individuals and employers to strengthen Indiana’s economy, is developing a new plan with a people focus and is taking a holistic approach to these goals.

By focusing on people, we embrace the unique and diverse needs of Indiana’s learners. Including state agencies and employers in this work ensures Hoosiers are getting access to the services they need most at that point in their lives.

Emphasizing lifelong learning calls for a broader definition of “higher learning,” “college” and “post-secondary education,” and should encompass the full range of credentials and people earning them.

The value of higher education is indisputable. But “higher education” includes much more: apprenticeships, short- and long-term workforce certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees and beyond.

These new definitions must also reach the full range of people earning those credentials: high school students, adult learners, veterans, those in Indiana’s prisons, and consider race and ethnicity, gender, geography and socioeconomic status.

Our state’s economic success stems from the hard-working, innovative and entrepreneurial mindset of its people. Indiana’s approach to education and workforce policy recognizes and leverages those strengths.

In this way, higher education is essential. It is a powerful force to address income inequality, close equity gaps, provide personal prosperity, drive economic growth and promote civic engagement in our American society.

The key to all of this is working toward a clear goal together for at least 60 percent of Hoosiers to have a quality credential aligned to the needs of a dynamic economy.

Indiana is getting ready for the future by aligning its resources around the people we serve. We are sending a clear message that if you want to get ahead, Indiana will help you get there.

Teresa Lubbers is the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education and chair of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. PJ McGrew is executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.

Teresa Lubbers is Indiana’s commissioner for higher education. PJ McGrew, who also contributed to this column, is executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.