Universities Addressing the Workforce Gap

Universities Addressing the Workforce Gap

Our state is in the midst of a major workforce development push intended to skill-up our employees to meet the rapidly-approaching job demands of an array of different industries. The big issue – we’re going to have almost a million job openings over the next decade and not enough skilled people to fill them. How are we going to get these people ready?

To find an answer, we decided to go straight to the top of Indiana’s leading colleges and universities, to the men and women at the forefront of this statewide push. We wanted to find out what their institutions are doing to target the issue and what they need from the business community to help them succeed.

Check out what they’ve described, and all the ways your company can become involved.


Mitch Daniels, President, Purdue University

Q1: More Hoosiers are employed today than at any point in the state’s history, but we still have a reported 95,000 job openings in so-called “high-demand” fields. A million more open jobs are projected to develop over the next decade. What is your institution’s strategy for addressing this demand? 

A1: With the acquisition of Kaplan University, Purdue is branching into online higher education programs that will build the skills of Indiana’s workforce. The primary audience of what we are calling NewU for the moment, is adults who need the flexibility that online education provides.

Q2: What type of input does your college/university need from the business community? Or, more specifically, how can businesses help your university address the workforce demand? 

A2: We’re trying to retain the tremendous talent of students who come to Purdue from other states and countries. We already know that 15% of those students remain in Indiana for their first job.  Employers can help by coming to campus, ready to recruit those students and show them that Indiana is a great place to live and work.


Michael A. McRobbie, President, Indiana University

A1: As the state’s flagship public university, we are committed to our mission of preparing students from across the state, nation and globe for the demands of an ever-evolving workforce. This fall, Indiana University enrolled 112,000 students on our campuses across the state. Among them were more Hoosier students than any other college or university in Indiana. Last year, IU graduated a record number of students – over 20,000 – which is roughly half of all four-year and advanced degree recipients in Indiana. IU’s ability to prepare students for high-demand jobs is undeniable, yet we are committed to innovating to offer an education that will continue to support the economic growth of our state and beyond.

IU continues to expand on its nearly 200-year foundation of excellence by adapting to local, national and international economic demands through academic restructuring and offering students an education that meets the needs of 21st century learners. We have focused on developing programs and schools in the areas of design, architecture, intelligent systems engineering, public health, international studies, media and philanthropy. Our new intelligent systems engineering degrees first offered in the 2016-17 academic year align with Indiana’s long-range Indiana Vision 2025 plan to increase Hoosier residents with postgraduate degrees in STEM-related fields. In addition, IU supports a culture of “building and making” and will begin offering a Master of Architecture degree in the new School of Art, Architecture and Design in 2018 that will have its primary focus on Columbus, Indiana, an internationally recognized center for architecture. The architecture degree anticipates a major state employment need. According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, employment of architects is projected to grow more than 20 percent through 2022.

Along with the new career opportunities provided in these programs and schools, students also benefit from the flexibility of our excellent IU Online initiative developed and administered by faculty from all of our campuses. A record number, 5,066 students, enrolled in IU Online this fall, which allows students to earn a prestigious IU degree while meeting their responsibilities to family and jobs. Our ability to build on the high-quality education IU has provided for almost two centuries while expanding with new schools and programs that use cutting-edge modes of learning is what makes IU a leading institution.

A2: At Indiana University, we recognize that addressing the needs of our state, nation and world requires collaboration with our government, businesses and community members. It is with this understanding that we have sought to help shape economic growth in Indiana through initiatives within our Office of the Vice President for Engagement and have also launched the Grand Challenges Program, a research initiative that harnesses IU’s power as a leading public research university to solve the greatest challenges we face.

Through our Office of the Vice President for Engagement, we enhance IU’s entrepreneurship initiatives and make connections to external partners. We coordinate engagement across all of IU’s campuses throughout the state with the IU Council for Regional Engagement and Economic Development (CREED), which addresses regional economic concerns and identifies ways that IU can use its resources to advance economic development efforts in those areas. Using regional economic development fund grants, entities from any IU campus can directly enhance regional economic vitality.

Our latest Grand Challenges project, “Responding to the Addictions Crisis” tackles a major public health crisis through partnerships with the state government, IU Health, Eskenazi Health and other organizations to combat substance abuse in Indiana. This initiative will be the nation’s largest and most comprehensive state-based response to the opioid crisis, and will require a focus on community and workforce development and expansion of training and certification to address Indiana’s significant shortage of addictions professionals.

As IU moves forward with the Grand Challenges Program and CREED, we will continue to reach out to the business community in an effort to build connections and seek input on the needs of Hoosiers and the best ways to address them. We would also ask that businesses and organizations across the state interested in partnering with IU contact our Office of the Vice President for Engagement.


Dr. Charles Johnson, President, Vincennes University

A1: VU is helping to address this challenge through two main efforts: industry partnerships and Career and Technical Early College. Through industry partnerships VU students receive industry-based training and education, work-based apprenticeships and internships, and a highly valuable credential – often at a significantly reduced cost. Through Career and Technical Early College, VU is working with 15 different Indiana Career Centers and Cooperatives to bring to thousands of Hoosier high school students VU’s high quality college-level education in fields where there is a strong demand in each region. CTE Early College accelerates access to college and career opportunities while saving Hoosier families thousands of dollars.

A2: The most important thing we need from industry is a partnership approach based on trust and open communication. The more we understand each other’s short- and long-term needs, challenges, and goals, the better we can develop collaborative approaches that work for all sides. Getting the right people at the table is an important start. Often the challenge of workforce development will fall on the shoulders of HR and, while they are very important to addressing the problem, having people at the table who have direct responsibility for supervising and developing talent in the skill areas is essential to success.


Janice Cervelli, President, Saint Mary’s College

A1: Saint Mary’s new Master’s program in data science, as well as our growing undergraduate STEM programs, equip young women to be leaders in information technology, a huge economic growth area in our region. Partnerships with firms augment the academic experience and support the regional initiative to attract more college graduates to work here.

An aging population will increase demand for graduates of Saint Mary’s nursing program, which includes a new adult-gerontology emphasis in addition to a family-practitioner path. And our new Master of Autism Studies program also recently received approval from the Higher Learning Commission. That’s another area where Saint Mary’s can help students develop their talents in the service of a pressing social need.

A2: We call the main road leading to the Saint Mary’s campus “The Avenue,” and it’s increasingly important for it to be a two-way street. Our students and faculty must take the initiative to engage with the local business community, while at the same time, an ongoing dialogue among leaders from “town” and “gown” will help solidify what’s already a productive, complementary relationship. Local businesses have been enthusiastic partners in drawing on the intellectual capital of our faculty and students, and sharing their expertise with our campus community.

Traditional connections like internships and mentorship programs continue to be important. Expanding the path from academic training at Saint Mary’s to real-world experience with local companies, particularly in STEM fields, is an area with great growth potential.


Chris Lowery, Senior Vice President for Workforce Alignment, Ivy Tech Community College

A1: Ivy Tech Community College developed a workforce alignment strategy and established a Workforce Alignment team, which includes a senior vice president and vice presidents with responsibilities for key economic sectors. The economic sectors are: Information Technology, Healthcare, Supply Chain Management/Logistics/Business, Information Technology and Advanced Manufacturing. The vice presidents facilitate collaboration between in­dustry associations, employers, and academic curriculum committees to ensure alignment of Ivy Tech program­ming with industry demand.

The Workforce Alignment team has worked with the Department of Workforce De­velopment (DWD) and identified high demand, high wage occupations using Indiana’s Occupational Demand Report, which was developed by DWD using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupation­al Information network, Burning Glass, and other sources. Further, the team has met local at all 19 campus service areas to review input from local employers for comparison with the various data sources. Ivy Tech’s Workforce Alignment and Academic Affairs teams, in conjunction with employer advisory panels across the state, have reviewed current credit-bearing and non-credit coursework and programs to ensure that Ivy Tech programs and courses target the preparation of students for occupations in the sub-baccalaureate area (classes, industry certifications, certificates, associate degrees) identified as high-demand and high-wage, with a focus on the priority now eco­nomic sectors identified by the state of Indiana.

Based upon data analysis and local campus and community input, each Ivy Tech program has been categorized into one of four supply and demand quadrants:

  1. High Demand and Low Supply
  2. High Demand and High Supply, but with limits to capacity (ex. availability of instructors and clinical space in nursing)
  3. Low Demand and High supply
  4. Relative equilibrium between Demand and Supply

A2: As noted above, input from the business community and other employers is necessary in assessing local market demand needs at the current time and into the future. Local employers within a community have the best knowledge regarding employment trends, retirements on the horizon, growth plans, and other business dynamics that will affect employment demand.

In addition, employer input is necessary for understanding relative to the specific programs being offered and that may need to be offered if not currently available. This guidance is critical for assessing and modifying programs that may be in existence, that need to be developed, or that may need to be discontinued.

Because Ivy Tech is focused not only the education of students, a collaborative focus with employers is necessary regarding work-and-learn experiences (internships, co-ops, and others) and job placement. Employer input and engagement is needed to help provide opportunities to students, including work-and-learn, placements, career advice, feedback, mentoring, and other interactions.

Employer input and engagement can also be beneficial in filling critical instructor roles through adjuncts, whether currently employed by a local business or as a retiree. Business and industry experts are often very well suited to assist in educating students regarding their specific field of expertise.

To further assist the students and the College, it is helpful when employers provide guidance and feedback regarding latest trends in workplace, include relative to equipment necessary, processes, and other important inputs.


Geoffrey Mearns, President, Ball State University

A1: We are aligning our academic programs and facilities investments to meet the demand. Our construction management program is Ball State’s fastest growing major, with 100 percent job placement rates and an average annual starting salary of $58,000 for 2017 graduates. Our new Health Professions Building will help us fill the need for more professionals in high-demand health care fields. When the facility is complete in 2019, it will feature multiple simulation suites, exam rooms, and clinics for various health-related assessments. Students in our College of Health will benefit from new labs and state-of-the-art facilities, which will allow for better interdisciplinary collaboration in settings that represent today’s interprofessional healthcare industry. One last example is our Center for Information and Sciences (CICS), which prepares our students for careers in information technology. CICS has long been a top-five program in the nation in preparing future IT leaders, and with central Indiana’s growing prominence in the tech job market, our graduates have never been more in demand.

A2: Each college has an advisory board, and so we need executives and professionals—all the better if they are alumni—to step up and serve on these boards. To use the example of our construction management program, our advisory board for the major helps us keep our curriculum current and relevant. Input from the board spurred us to develop a Building Information Modeling course that is now our most popular technical elective. Similarly, our Miller College of Business has an active outreach program that includes more than 20 advisory boards. The members of these boards are content experts and executives who engage with our students on best practices and serve as champions for the program, college, and university.


Dr. Daniel J. Bradley, President, Indiana State University

A1: Indiana State is constantly reviewing its mix of degree programs to align with the state’s workforce needs. Most recently, the university added a general engineering program in response to needs expressed by industry. Indiana State has also added several health care programs and expanded others in recent years to address Indiana’s critical shortage of health care professionals.

A2: Indiana State needs increased participation in advisory boards for our colleges and academic programs to provide information on the specific skills employers are looking for in certain fields. ISU also needs more internship opportunities for its students to gain hands-on experience.


Dr. David Wright, President, Indiana Wesleyan University

A1: First, we prepare our undergraduate students to be entrepreneurs and innovators and to apply that type of thinking in their chosen disciplines. Second, we provide affordable and convenient access to high-quality preparation for many of the jobs currently on the list of Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs. Third, we are actively exploring options for non-degree preparation for career paths that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. Truck drivers, also on that hot jobs list, don’t need a college degree, but they do need to learn to think strategically and entrepreneurially to be successful. Finally, we explore ways to provide micro- qualifications to enable students to demonstrate that they have mastered certain skills in their chosen field. Overall, we help our students prepare to chart their own course in this economy.

A2: We are passionate to help students graduate without crippling debt. We have accomplished this through tuition reimbursement programs, university-based scholarships and financial aid from the government. But today we are working to find creative solutions so that students can enter the workforce ready to excel. Secondly, we believe universities and businesses must leave our respective silos to collaborate on future-oriented degree programs. The advisory board at our DeVoe School of Business helps ground our degrees in the reality of the workplace. Rather than teaching specific job skills, these business representatives advise us to teach our students how to be thinkers, manage complex work assignments, work with team members, see the bigger picture, and to be trustworthy and ethical employees. To do this we need high quality internships and clinical placements. These opportunities require sacrifice and commitment, but they prepare students to thrive in our changing economy.


Dr. Tom Kazee, President, University of Evansville

A1: The University of Evansville is sensitive to the needs of the labor market and the community in general, even as we keep our focus on an education built on the foundations of the liberal arts and sciences.  For example, we have recently implemented a successful Physician Assistant Science program, and two new programs addressing particular labor force needs:  Data Analytics and Supply Chain/Logistics.  We are, in addition, developing an academic strategic plan that has as its primary focus the development of new programs that supplement existing programs and extend a curriculum of distinctive strength.  This effort will be informed by discussions with business leaders in the community about their needs.

A2: We are advantaged by having a Board of Trustees that includes key business leaders who have shared with us their workforce needs. More generally, we need to know from the business community as a whole what types of programs offered by UE would help local firms to address areas of particular need. An advantage we have as a small, private university is our agility; we can create programs specifically customized for the needs of area businesses. Moreover, I also serve on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce as well as a committee focused on how local universities can partner with the business community to address workforce concerns.


Mark Heckler, President, Valparaiso University

A1: We continually review our academic offerings at Valparaiso University and monitor trends to identify in-demand areas that are a good fit for Valpo. Recently, we launched programs in bioengineering and physician assistant studies to respond to emerging trends.

Our Career Center offers numerous opportunities for students to prepare for the workplace. Through a Lilly Foundation grant, we’ve launched the IN_Advance program, which equips Valpo students with the kinds of skills and knowledge that will give them a competitive advantage. Students have access to unique opportunities in the state of Indiana, such as a recent trip to Indianapolis. Students met with employers, learned about the workforce, and attended a networking luncheon with Valpo alumni in the Indianapolis area. The program also aims to call attention to opportunities in these high-demand fields — advanced manufacturing, logistics, health care.

A2: We have a strong relationship with the Indiana business community and ask that they continue to engage with Valpo and participate in campus events.

We encourage business, nonprofit, and community leaders to connect with our academic deans with ideas for how we might better respond to regional workforce needs that relate to undergraduate and graduate degrees.

We frequently hear from business leaders that it is the skills students develop that set them apart, much more so than their chosen major. Do they learn quickly and adapt to changes? Are they dependable and do they work well with others? This enables us to offer a comprehensive education in which strong academics are complemented by internship and professional work experiences.

Additionally, the National Councils of our Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing and Health Professions, share their expertise and advice on curricular and program innovation, offering valuable insight from their niche marketplaces regarding emerging trends and demands.


Photo credits: Photo of President Cervelli was taken by John Tirotta and provided by Saint Mary’s College. Other photos of respective presidents were provided by Purdue University, Indiana University, Vincennes University, Ivy Tech Community College, Ball State University, Indiana State University, Indiana Wesleyan University, University of Evansville, and Valparaiso University.

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