What many call the “unemployment office” is undergoing significant changes in Bartholomew County, as well as in other nearby counties.

“In the past, Workforce Development was about getting someone from the starting line (applying for assistance) to the finish line (securing a job) and coaching them through,” said Kurt Kegerreis, executive director of the Southeast Indiana Workforce Board. “These days, we have to get them to the starting line first.”

Kegerreis says he’s essentially referring to tackling barriers that discourage Hoosiers from seeking work. Those obstacles range from poverty and lack of child care to transportation and housing. They also include legal problems and substance abuse.

“That’s a whole step that has to happen before we start talking about what training they need or what placement they are ready to take,” Kegerreis said during a recent meeting with the Bartholomew County commissioners. “We’re moving closer to social service kind of work, but ultimately, it’s all about creating workers and finding talent for our employers.”

The change in focus is necessary because the region is currently experiencing historically low unemployment rates, Kegerreis said. In Bartholomew County, December’s jobless rate was 2.4%, compared to the state’s 3.6% average.

The Southeast Indiana Workforce Investment Board has done well in attracting state and federal dollars to tackle the challenges and motivate potential workers, Kegerreis said.

In the last six months, the workforce board has raised over $1 million from three new new funders.

The most prominent grant comes is the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction, which has provided $500,000 to create behavioral health workers and expand the Workforce Board’s Regional Substance Abuse Recovery System.

The system’s primary goal is to build a regional peer recovery system that provides holistic employment and training programming for individuals in recovery, Kegerreis said.

Peer recovery coaches continue to be a critical need for healthcare employers in southeast Indiana, and demand is growing by as much as 20% over the next decade, he said.

Partners for this new apprenticeship program are Ivy Tech Community College and the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) in Bartholomew County.

The second grant was provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“We will sent people to the probation department with the money from the SAMHSA grant to get folks out of the corrections loop,” Kegerreis said. “If you get someone who is going to fall into the legal system and can get them on their feet again, we will work to get them jobs while they are still incarcerated. When they are done with their time, they are permanently employed.”

The third new source of funding is the office of Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery, Kegerreis said. In addition, the Southeast Indiana Workforce Investment Board has raised over a half-million in private sector dollars for these new purposes.

Established opportunities include the Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant. It pays the tuition and mandatory fees for eligible high-value certificate programs at Ivy Tech, Vincennes University, Indiana Institute of Technology, and other approved educational providers.

If these programs are able to get 10% of the population traditionally considered unemployable and motivate them to become part of the workforce, the region will no longer have a talent crisis, Kegerreis said.

About the Southeast Indiana Workforce Investment Board

Southeast Indiana WorkForce Investment Board is the Workforce Development Board for Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, and Switzerland counties. The board’s mission is to help Hoosiers find and grow in careers that are productive and fulfilling, and to help employers find the qualified personnel they need to be successful.

State officials say the Southeast Indiana Workforce Investment Board is committed to equitable workforce solutions. This includes serving underrepresented populations, including individuals in recovery and justice-involved individuals and their families.
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