Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb addresses the media, state and local elected officials at Lippert Components (Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb selected Elkhart County — the RV Capitol of the World — as a fitting site to unveil today (Aug. 17) his NextLevel Jobs initiative that is built to train, attract and retain the workers that the state desperately needs.

During his presentation at Elkhart-based Lippert Components Inc., Holcomb addressed some startling facts. Of particular note for area employers, Elkhart County faces a deficit of 35,000 workers, according to the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development, and the issue continues to grow.

“Our industry is introducing about two million square feet over the next 12 months and as we get that capacity online we are going to need another 10,000 employees,” said Lippert CEO Jason Lippert who spoke at the event. “We are just trying to figure out ways to get ahead of the problem. As this industry, especially here in Elkhart County, continues to get better we are going to need more help.”

Holcomb’s NextLevel Jobs initiative aims to close that gap by providing training incentives to both employees and employers in an effort to attack the issue from “two sides”.

“The bottom line is having things in place that are attractive to the workforce,” he said. “I have been hearing all around the state, from all 92 counties, about the yearning and the appetite to grow because our state is such an attractive place to be.”

Jason Lippert addresses media and guests (Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)

Holcomb said there are nearly 100,000 open jobs across the state and that he is focused on finding solutions to the worker shortage that will prepare the state for the one million positions that will need to be filled by 2025.

“Literally every region is craving to bridge that skills gap,” he said. “That is where the rub is at. We have the jobs that are available and we have the people that are eager to get into these jobs. Time is wasting and we have so much opportunity ahead of us, so we need to bridge that skills gap.”

The NextLevel Jobs initiative works to close the gap by providing two new grant programs, including:

  • The Workforce Ready Grant covers full tuition costs for adult learners earning career certificates in high-growth sectors, such as manufacturing, building and health sciences.
  • The Employer Training Grant focuses on employers by providing up to $2,500 per employee to qualifying companies that train and retain new hires. A pilot of the grant will be launched in 2018 and 2019, funded through a $10 million grant from the state’s Career Technical Education Innovation Funds.

Teresa Lubbers, commissioner of the state’s Commission for Higher Education, said the goal is to have 60% of Indiana residents attain some sort of higher education certificate or degree. Currently, only 41% of Indiana residents meet that goal.

“The numbers have been inching up, but we have a long way to go,” she said. “The goal is aligned with what manufacturers are telling us they need. If Hoosiers do not have those types of qualifications down the road they will be left behind.”

For Lippert Components, which Jason Lippert said had 500 openings right now, the program is a start, but not an end-all.

“It is going to put a little dent in the problem, but the issue is that we are going to add more to our deficit. The problem is getting bigger and we need solutions that attract big numbers,” he said.

Getting people to come to Elkhart County is key and Lippert said that housing was also an area that needed a lot of improvement as well.

“We have housing issues, we just do not have people flocking here where we need the jobs filled,” he said. “Getting people here is the tough thing. The economy is pretty good in other parts of the country so people are not jumping up to leave. But if we get housing projects going, get things in place where people want to move, those things can help.”

He said that Lippert Components has been advertising jobs in areas of the country that have higher unemployment rates, trying to attract employees.

“I don’t want to leave. We do a lot of business here, and it is easier to manage because it is close to the industries we work with,” he said. “Going to other states would create issues in terms of managing those facilities, training employees that don’t come from this industry. We want to keep it here, but that (moving) is something we are definitely considering.”