With an aging population, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Iowa today is a skilled worker shortage. It’s a looming threat to our economy because if we don’t have enough workers with the right skills, businesses will be forced to relocate or expand outside of Iowa.
Right now, 56% of jobs in Iowa are middle skill jobs. These jobs require more than a high school diploma but not a four year degree; they require an associate’s degree, a training certificate, or an apprenticeship. However, just 33% of our workforce has this skill set.
Unfortunately, Iowa has a disproportionately high percentage of low skill workers who have just a high school diploma or below. These low skill workers make up 38% of Iowa’s workforce but just 12% of Iowa jobs are actually low skill.
These facts and trends make it clear we’ve got to expand job training opportunities to ensure all Iowans have the skills they need for the 21st century workforce. It’s essential that we help low skill workers upgrade their skills and make sure that every k-12 student in Iowa gets some training beyond high school.
The good news is we’ve already begun to address this workforce shortage and we’ve got the infrastructure in place to train workers.
Most of the training opportunities we need already exist through Iowa’s community college system. There are 123 community college campuses or centers around the state with a variety of training opportunities for recent high school graduates, employees looking to learn new skills, and employers looking to train their own employees.
The training at our colleges can range from preparation in applied mathematics and writing, to skills training in an apprenticeship program like welding or advanced manufacturing.
It’s important to remember that these middle skill jobs don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. In many cases, Iowans can take advantage of one of the 627 apprenticeship opportunities that combine classroom and on-the-job training in high-demand careers, like health care, advanced manufacturing, and construction.
Given the severe workforce shortage we face, it’s essential that training – and re-training — be available to workers of all ages, starting in high school.
A report out last week found that Iowa leads the nation with a record 42,996 high school students getting an early start on their college education with concurrent enrollment at their local community college. Last year, those students earned an average of 7.8 credit hours, which is the equivalent of almost three college courses.
Additional training for high school students is a good first step, but we can’t fix the workforce shortage without additional training for the low-skill adults who make up 38% of our workforce. It’s the main reason we approved a Skilled Worker initiative a few years ago that includes more adult basic education training and literacy programs.
Another key to closing the workforce shortage is encouraging more partnerships between Iowa businesses and local community colleges. These partnerships lead to current employees acquiring new skills for their job, as well as training for prospective employees for jobs that are available in their own community.
I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made, but we’ve got more work to do. We need to expand tuition grants and job training opportunities at community colleges so more Iowans can get the skills needed to land a good job. We also need to keep building stronger partnerships between high schools, businesses, and community colleges so we’ve got a workforce with the skills Iowa businesses need.
It’s going to take many years to close the gap on our skilled worker shortage, but we can’t afford to put it on the back burner. Iowa’s future depends on it
Contact Leader Mark Smith
Des Moines, IA 50319