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(The Center Square) – Indiana’s labor participation rate may exceed the national average, but state Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar believes it needs to be higher.

That’s why the chamber supports a bill going through the General Assembly this session that would work to increase the state’s labor pool, he told reporters Wednesday.

House Bill 1160 would create two workforce training pilot programs. The first would be what bill sponsor Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, described on the House Floor last month as an “education and career services” program run by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The second pilot would provide training to two groups: people who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families assistance and are either underemployed or out of work and Hoosiers with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Clere, who spoke on behalf of the bill before it passed 92-0 on the House floor on Feb. 16, said the workforce training pilot will help answer a question many in Statehouse ask.

“How do we get more people in the workforce?” the lawmaker said. “We have people in Indiana who would like to be in the workforce who haven’t had the opportunity to be in the workforce… and we think there’s a great opportunity not only to get those people in the workforce but to leverage this to meet other workforce needs specifically within the realm of incumbent worker training.”

Increasing the labor pool is crucial for Indiana’s success, Brinegar said, and while the state’s 63.4% workforce participation rate is a full percentage point higher than the national average, he added the state has room for improvement.

“Currently, we have more job openings than we have job seekers, and this is a way to get folks who are not currently in the workforce back and working and earning better incomes,” he said.

According to data released this week by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state had 130,839 job openings on March 1, and the current pool of potential workers is 126,064.

Clere has said he envisions companies within a community or region eventually coming together for workforce training programs to create opportunities for workers to learn new skills and become qualified for higher-wage jobs.

HB 1160 has moved to the Senate but has yet to receive a committee hearing.