To educate potential workers about the reality of today's manufacturing jobs and showcase training programs and job opportunities available across Iowa, industry leaders have launched a new "Elevate Advanced Manufacturing" campaign.
The awareness campaign is an effort by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Iowa-Advanced Manufacturing Consortium, or I-AM, a collaboration of the state's 15 community colleges.
“When you ask the average Iowan about advanced manufacturing, they think of an outdated image — a dirty, unsafe work environment,” said Mike Ralston, the association’s president. “That simply is not the case. Iowa has strong, innovative companies that make cutting-edge products and are well-regarded as leaders in their industry.”
But a looming shortage of skilled workers has caused concern for manufacturing companies and in turn, has Iowa's community colleges becoming even more active in promoting manufacturing as a career choice. By 2018, Iowa's advanced manufacturing sector expects a shortage of 6,672 skilled workers.
"It's not your father's manufacturing anymore," said Dan Martin, operations director at the Blong Technology Center in Davenport, which is part of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. "These are good living-wage jobs."
According to 2011 statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average manufacturing worker made $77,060 annually, including pay and benefits, while the average worker in other industries earned $60,168.
"There is a skills gap that is coming toward us with a lot of retiring people in the workforce, and many of our industries are seeing they are going to have a gap in trained employees," Martin said. "We are trying to find a way to fill the gap by getting students in our programs."
The campaign include a new website, www.elevateiowa.com, which includes video testimonials, self-assessment career guides, job search tools and training information. It also includes a statewide media campaign with testimonials from employees and manufacturers. Various state programs, including Gov. Terry Branstad's STEM initiative and Workforce Development’s online Job Bank, also are involved in the effort.
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“Iowa’s 15 community colleges offer a broad range of training opportunities within advanced manufacturing,” said Stephanie Ferraro, the I-AM Consortium’s project manager. “With funding from the U. S. Department of Labor, the I-AM Consortium is building capacity in programs across the state. Colleges are redesigning and developing industry-influenced curriculum, embedding industry credentials into educational pathways and purchasing state-of-the-art equipment to replicate the technology-rich work environment found in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.”
Martin said the consortium received a nearly $13 million grant to target students for the schools' advanced manufacturing programs. Of that, he said Eastern Iowa Community Colleges' share was $734,000.
The funding will double capacity of the Blong Technology Center's welding lab as well as establish the center as an accredited testing facility for the American Welding Society. The center's Computerized Numeric Control/Machining program also is working on obtaining a new accreditation with the National Institute for Metal Working Skills.
According to Martin, each community college is using its share of the grant as part of a "statewide effort to make sure Iowa has the trained employees coming into that pipeline ... "
Through the campaign, organizers also are offering manufacturing tours, speakers and demonstrations to K-12 schools. The "Elevate Advanced Manufacturing" campaign has an exhibit at the Iowa State Fair with the American Welding Society booth. It also will be at the Iowa Speedway in Newton (Sept. 7-8), the Girls Scouts of Iowa Annual Conference as well as other events.