Claire Fiddian-Green, CEO Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, and David Becker, CEO First Internet Bank, for Indiana Capital Chronicle

Indiana is facing a dual crisis: fewer Hoosiers are pursuing education after high school while at the same time, employers continue to cite workforce development concerns. The Indiana Department of Education’s (IDOE) new proposal to update high school diploma requirements will allow students to pursue more work-based learning opportunities – a key step in solving both issues.

While three-fourths of Indiana high school students say they intend to pursue some form of education beyond graduation, just over half go on to college. From there, only about two-thirds of the students who attend an Indiana public college graduate within six years. This means a majority of Hoosier students enter the labor market without a degree or credentials.

Now consider that by 2031, 72% of jobs in the U.S. will require a college degree and/or training beyond high school. It’s clear our state’s current talent shortages are only projected to worsen.

One way to increase the number of Hoosiers with education and training beyond high school is to encourage them to pursue work-based learning, including modern youth apprenticeship.


Indiana’s youth apprenticeship model, currently in the pilot phase, allows 11th grade students to participate in a three-year, paid work-and-learn program, during which students work year-round. It culminates in a high school diploma, college credit and an industry credential, all while preparing students for in-demand careers. These apprenticeships play a key role in presenting potential career paths while also meeting the entry-level staffing needs of employers.

Some students may choose to continue their education by enrolling in college, while others may opt to begin working immediately after high school, utilizing the skills developed during their apprenticeship. In either case, the number of Hoosiers who pursue education after high school will increase and add to the skilled workforce.

As the co-chairs of CEMETS iLab Indiana, a coalition of more than 120 Indiana leaders working to build and scale a statewide modern youth apprenticeship system, we see youth apprenticeship as a key solution to the state’s mounting workforce crisis. However, the system can only function as intended if we rethink the high school experience. We must remove existing barriers students face in accessing this type of work-based learning.

Studies have shown that many skills are better taught through work-based learning than the traditional classroom, yet Indiana’s current diploma requirements make it difficult for a student to participate and still earn the credits needed to graduate on time. In IDOE’s new proposal, work-based learning counts toward required credits, freeing up time in the high school schedule to work offsite. In turn, this will make opportunities like youth apprenticeship much more accessible to students.

By updating Indiana’s high school diploma requirements, more students will graduate with the skills and experience they need to be successful in an ever-changing job market. This ensures they have a clear, seamless transition to their next step, whether they’re beginning their career or pursuing additional degrees or credentials.

Indiana must take bold action to reform its education and workforce development system to deliver better outcomes for individuals, employers, and the state’s economy. The Indiana Department of Education’s proposal to streamline the state’s high school graduation requirements is a critical step to making this a reality and will be a game-changer for our economy and for all Hoosiers.