Indiana’s Next Level Jobs Training Initiative


eveloping a highly skilled Indiana workforce through education and training initiatives, such as the recently approved Next Level Jobs, continues to be a top priority for Governor Holcomb’s administration. Per the Governor’s agenda, more than 1 million jobs will need to be filled in Indiana over the next 10 years as new jobs are created and as baby boomers retire.

To help with this effort, the 2017 General Assembly approved funding for the Next Level Jobs initiative through two grant programs focusing on Indiana job seekers and Indiana employers in select high demand business sectors including Advanced Manufacturing, Building & Construction, Health & Life Sciences, Information Technology & Business Services, and Transportation & Logistics. The Employer Training Grant program also included Agriculture as a sixth industry. These industries were identified as experiencing rapid growth and having higher median wages in Indiana. Here are brief overviews of both programs:

Workforce Ready Grant

The Workforce Ready Grant program is designed to provide free training for working-age Hoosiers seeking high demand jobs in one of the targeted industries noted above. This program will pay the tuition costs for job seekers to earn a “high-value” certificate through one of two state approved institutions of higher education. The grant is available for a two year period, and will cover credit hours required to complete a certification program. Through select courses offered, these certification programs will develop specialized skills for job seekers in one of the five main targeted industries. Depending on the type of certification pursued, courses can also be transferable towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The grant will cover remaining tuition and mandatory fee charges after other financial aid has been applied, and does not cover the costs of courses that do not directly apply to a certification program. The program has some additional criteria for job seekers and students to qualify for the grant, such as Indiana residency, completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), enroll at least as a half-time student, and not previously earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Employer Training Grant

The Employer Training Grant program is sponsored by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and is for Indiana employers in one of the high demand business sectors noted above (including Agriculture) that hire, train, and retain new employees in qualified high-demand and high-wage positions. Employers can receive up to $2,500 per eligible new employee, and the program is limited to $25,000 per employer. Training eligible for reimbursement must be occupational skills training related to an eligible occupation, and does not include HR training or job shadowing. Training programs can be customized or provided through a DWD approved training vendor. Employees or employers participating in other Indiana training programs such as Workforce Ready Grant or Skills Enhancement Fund (SEF) may be ineligible to participate in this program. There are additional program requirements, along with a list of eligible occupations.

Indiana is not alone in offering free training and/or employer incentives to promote the growth of targeted industries within the state. A number of states, including Ohio, Louisiana, and Georgia, all offer similar programs. In fact, local communities may also provide funding in addition to available state and federal programs to attract future employees and employers in targeted industries.

Apprenticeship programs are gaining momentum in a number of states, and are typically state sponsored programs that offer an accreditation in certain approved jobs and industries. Programs such as ApprenticeOhio create the opportunity for workers to earn an income while at the same time learning a skilled trade through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Programs can be completed in under 2 years, or last upwards of 5 years depending on certification requirements. Please note that the number and type of registered apprenticeship programs as well as funding will vary by state.

Similar to Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant, the Louisiana Apprenticeship program allows for programs to link with colleges or universities where the classroom instruction could also count as college credit towards a future degree. In many cases, program sponsors will pay all or at least part of the costs, and opportunities for state funded financial assistance may be available.

As an alternative to an apprenticeship program, states in addition to Indiana offer industry specific certification programs to develop specialized skills for jobs in those industries. For instance, the State of Georgia is highly regarded for the variety and quality of training programs offered to Georgia residents and employers. Several programs such as the Zell Miller Grant, HOPE Grant, HOPE Career Grant, and Trade Five Scholarship all help promote the education and certification of workers in industries targeted by the state for expansion. The Zell Miller Grant and HOPE Grant programs provide grant assistance to residents of Georgia pursuing approved certificates or diplomas at a Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) or University System of Georgia (USG) institution. Both programs have minimum GPA and approved course hour requirements to maintain eligibility.

The HOPE Career Grant, formerly known as the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant (SIWDG), is offered in addition to the Zell Miller Grant and HOPE Grant programs. Students must receive funding from one of these programs to be eligible for the HOPE Career Grant. The grant provides assistance for educational costs in an approved designated program of study.

The Trade Five Scholarship is also open to Georgia residents and supports education in a skilled trade at a TCSG institution. Trade Five offers $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school students pursuing career opportunities in logistics, construction, manufacturing, energy or telecommunications.

While virtually all states offer some form of financial assistance through grants, scholarships, and low interest loans, Indiana is attempting to stand out by adding an additional layer of training support to already existing programs such as the popular Skills Enhancement Fund. A unique feature of the Next Level Jobs Initiative is the opportunity to not only incentivize Hoosier workers, but also the Hoosier companies that employ them. If I had one criticism of the Next Level Jobs Initiative, it would be the low incentive cap of $25,000 set under the Employer Training Grant. A higher incentive cap for employers would draw more attention to the program, and make it more economical to implement for participants. This program alone is not enough to bridge the anticipated jobs gap, but it is a step in the right direction.

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