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CEDAR RAPIDS — State officials have high hopes for a bridging a skills gap in the Iowa workforce, aiming to ensure that 70 percent of Iowa workers have training or education beyond high school by 2025.

Most Iowans who want work have a job, Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said in Cedar Rapids Monday. The unemployment rate — 2.6 percent — is at an 18-year low.

Yet there are 44,000 Iowans looking for work, and more than 60,000 job opening across the state.

In many cases, Townsend told the Downtown Rotary, the barrier to people finding work and employers finding people to fill jobs is that skills gap.

About 128,000 Iowans need to be educated, certified and trained to meet Iowa’s workplace needs. About 58.4 percent of the workforce has met the goals of Future Ready Iowa, but that’s up just three-10ths of a percent from the previous year.

“My expectation is that when we do get an appropriation, we would see an increase of certainly more than three-10ths of a percent each year,” she said later.

The key to making Future Ready Iowa successful will be getting funding from the Legislature next year. About $3 million was appropriated to “build the infrastructure,” Townsend said, but said about $18 million will be needed to fund the Last Dollar Scholar and Grant Program and the Employer Innovation Fund and to expand apprenticeship program.

She’s hopeful the funding will be approved when the Legislature meets in January because the program was unanimously approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

“That’s a good recognition of the skills gaps and that this is not a partisan issue,” Townsend said. “It will take all of us working together to close that skills gap.”

Much of that funding for the loans and grants will flow through community colleges, which offer education and career training, she said, as well as the expansion of certified apprenticeship programs.

Iowa has 856 certified apprenticeship program that graduate more than 1,500 people a year.

To draw a road map for Future Ready Iowa, Iowa Workforce Development is hosting a series of summits that have attracted nearly 1,600 participants. Space is limited. To register, go to futurereadyiowa.gov/summits.

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