Raising talent

In order to maintain and grow its middle class, Indianapolis must build a local talent ecosystem that meets the demands of today’s jobs and propels both residents and communities into careers that support middle-class lifestyles. Securing Indy’s middle class first depends on the ability of its educational systems to prepare current and future students for the new world of work. Accomplishing this goal requires reform starting with early education, and the K-12 system and leaders from diverse economic sectors must strategically collaborate to ensure equal access to quality education for all. At the postsecondary level, the priority must be on making sure that what students are learning aligns with the skills employers are looking for, corresponds to high-growth industries, and exposes students to exploratory workforce opportunities.

Taking Jobs to the Next Level

Area 31 Career Center, based at Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School, gives students the opportunity to explore career options through hands-on learning. Students from 11 high schools spend half their day at their home high school, and three hours at the Career Center. Currently, about 1,500 students participate in the Area 31 programming.

Dr. Patrick Biggerstaff, director of career and technical & adult education at Area 31 Career Programs, says, “Students come into our programs for a variety of reasons. It could be exploration, it could be part of their college pathway, or they may want to go to work immediately after graduation in a high-wage, high-demand field.”

For students with college plans, Biggerstaff says the state is working to embed the first year of college curriculum in the last two years of high school. “Students are earning a 15-hour certificate or an 18-hour certificate, or even up to a full associate degree during high school.”

The state is prioritizing specific career pathways to be included among the Area 31 offerings, according to Biggerstaff. “Indiana has identified what they consider next-level jobs. They've put additional funding behind those programs, not only on the secondary level, but in the adult education space.”

“Those next-level jobs are in areas that you might expect. There's IT, some life science, biomedical science, health careers, agriculture, manufacturing. Then, in Indianapolis, supply chain and logistics is pretty big.”

Biggerstaff adds, “The state continues to work on the development of secondary CTE pathways called Next Level Programs of Study (NLPS). These programs are designed to embed dual credits and industry certifications.” These CTE courses have been approved for implementation in the fall. Class titles offer a wide range of study–from Principles of Hospitality to Digital Record Keeping to Crop Management.

Some of Area 31’s programming has continued despite the pandemic, notes Biggerstaff. “Due to the nature of career and tech ed, and the fact that we have classroom spaces and lab spaces, it was a little easier for us to accommodate social distancing and safety protocols.”

Even with continued programming, there have been challenges. “We've had slight increases in absenteeism amongst students, particularly for the virtual learning. We've put resources toward outreach to families, and wraparound supports for some social, emotional needs that have cropped up.”

A Fast Track to the Middle Class

Again, and again, studies have shown that education is the gateway to the middle class. Ivy Tech Community College is considered the largest contributor to the Indiana workforce via its affordable, open-access education, and training programs.

Since the pandemic, the state has partnered with Ivy Tech and local businesses to provide people who’ve lost their jobs with free classes and certifications in good-paying, in-demand fields.

"Almost every company suddenly discovered they needed more IT help, whether it's security work, or web design, or troubleshooters,” says Dr. Kathleen Lee, chancellor for Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis.

“It’s short-term training. The first cohort is finishing up right now and we're starting a second cohort in the next eight weeks.” The impact is immediate, says Lee. “We’re working with partners who are saying ‘I've got ten jobs open and if you can bring me ten people, I'll hire them as soon as they're done with their training.’”

“Education is important to be part of the middle class...we believe that it’s certainly the vehicle that makes it possible for our children to achieve whatever dream they may have in life.”

— Reverend Charles Harrison, Senior Pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church


Stephanie Bothun, Co-founder & Vice President of Services at Ascend Indiana

Stephanie Bothun has pioneered efforts to strengthen Indianapolis’ talent pipeline by focusing on individuals at all levels of the education-to-career pathway. Her dedication to improving learning outcomes for students of all ages has defined her career, from earning Teach for America’s Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award to becoming the former director of education initiatives for the city of Indianapolis’ Office of Education Innovation, where she helped thousands of preschool children from low-income families access quality education.

In addition to her success in the education sector, she has worked on the employer side of talent development, having served as a human capital analyst for Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Combining her experiences of working with both learners and employers, Bothun is determined to improve the talent pipeline as a whole.

In 2015, Bothun and Jason Kloth co-founded Ascend Indiana, a workforce development initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership that strives to ensure every employer has access to skilled labor and every worker has the chance to build a purposeful career.

In her role as vice president of services, Bothun works with high-growth employers and educators to build partnerships and educational programming that combat local workforce gaps and create critical connections between talent supply and demand. To date, Bothun has overseen the development of three health-related workforce academies and led the redesign of Ivy Tech Community College’s career development, which will improve career outcomes for roughly 100,000 students. As a result of her efforts to create learning and workforce opportunities for people in Indianapolis, she was named one of Indiana Business Journal’s “40 under 40” in 2020.

“If you look at what has put people into the middle class across the country for the last 30 years or more, getting more education has certainly been one of, if not a sure-fire, ticket to the middle class.”

— Austan Goolsbee, Economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business