CARTER LAKE — Schools, community colleges and businesses must work together to train and certify the trade workers throughout southwest Iowa and beyond as the state works to close a large skills gap.
That was the message from business and school leaders and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during a Future Ready Iowa Summit held at Owen Industries in Carter Lake Tuesday morning. Reynolds made a stop in the western-most city in Iowa as part of a statewide tour of summits and talked about partnerships that will benefit communities, schools, businesses and individuals.
In southwest Iowa, a program highlighted during the summit is the TradeWorks Academy in the Council Bluffs Community School District, which in partnership with Iowa Western Community College, is in its first year of preparing students for work in fields including welding, automotive and diesel mechanic technology, construction, electrical work and heating and cooling technology. The Lewis Central Community School District is also working to implement additional trade training programs as well.
“To meet the needs of the region we need schools, community colleges and businesses to work together,” Reynolds said. “It’s a win-win on so many levels: you create a pipeline of talent, it keeps young people in the community and they have a great career.”
Statewide, about 53% of work in Iowa is in “middle-skilled jobs,” which require post-secondary education including an associate’s degree, certification or other credential, Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend told summit attendees. Another 35% are “high-skilled jobs,” which require a bachelor’s degree or higher. The remaining 12% are “low-skilled jobs” that require no education.
Townsend said the state has a shortage in middle-skill workers that the Future Ready Iowa program is working to fill.
“The issue becomes we have way too many people that just have those low skills. We have an over-abundance in that category. We need to figure out how we move those low-skilled workers we have into the middle- and high-skill arena,” she said, noting the first step is working to make sure all Iowans graduate from college.
In Iowa Workforce Development surveys of employers, the low population in the state plays a factor, but businesses said the more important issue is that paucity of middle-skilled workers.
The Future Ready Iowa program aims to make sure that 70% of Iowans have a post-secondary degree, credential or certificate by 2025, meaning the state needs to educate about 140,000 people between now and 2025 to meet that goal.
Townsend said about 37,000 adults in the state have started a post-secondary program but haven’t finished and programs will target motivating them to complete training. Part of meeting that goal will also including making sure 45,000 students graduate high school and head to a post-secondary training program.
And lastly, Future Ready Iowa will work to reach roughly 15,000 adults that have no post-secondary training or education.
“We need to make sure we are up-skilling every available person we have in the state of Iowa,” Townsend said, mentioning the need to reach minority, rural and urban populations. “We don’t have the luxury of leaving anybody behind, we don’t have the luxury of not paying attention to every group of potential employees that we have.”
A key element to getting people the required training is through apprenticeships. Ron DeBord, vice president of human resources with Owen Industries, and Todd Oesterle, business marketing specialist with the IowaWORKS program of Iowa Workforce Development, talked about the importance of apprenticeships during the summit.
DeBord noted apprenticeships offer real-time, real world experience and mentorship that help increase not only the job skills but also life skills like communication and offer the chance for students to earn money while they learn, reducing potential student loan debt along the way. Owen Industries works in metal fabrication, forming and finishing, with five total locations in Iowa and North Dakota.
“Embracing apprenticeships is a wonderful opportunity for companies,” DeBord said. “Earn to learn, that’s the way to go.”
DeBord said Iowa’s low unemployment rate means when jobs open up there’s a lack of applicants with three-to-five (or more) years of experience, meaning employers must be willing to install training programs to make sure they meet their demand for employees.
“There’s a pool there to tap into and close that gap, we just have to be flexible,” he said.
Oesterle discussed state programs that offer grants to employers to implement apprentice programs that are non-competitive — meaning as long as the business meets requirements, they’re eligible for the cash.
The Future Ready Iowa Summits started in early September and will finish with a program on Nov. 19 in Ames. In southwest Iowa, summits were held in Clarinda, Denison and Atlantic earlier this year.
“These types of jobs are critical to the growth of Iowa,” Reynolds said. “It’s so exciting to see what’s happening, the transformation of K-12 programs to help meet this need while also helping the people and businesses in these communities.”