Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire country. While one would think that this is a positive statistic, it is causing problems for businesses. With more than 35,000 job openings in the state of Iowa, many are going unfilled because Iowa employers are struggling to find employees in their communities or employees with the skill sets necessary to meet the requirements of the position.
And Iowa is not alone. Many other states across the Midwest face this same issue.
As chairman of the House Commerce Committee, I spend considerable time talking with business owners across the state in every business sector. My goal is to find common sense solutions to their problems and help grow our economy. One of the best ways we can accomplish this is by helping businesses attract and retain the workforce they need.
Governor Reynolds shares this priority, setting a goal for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to attain education or training beyond high school. She proposed the Future Ready Iowa Act to help Iowa workers "skill up" so they have the expertise for high-demand jobs and a good career. Future Ready Iowa is an innovative career training program providing support to Iowans by helping them attain skills in high-demand and ensures businesses have the workforce they need. Not only will this help grow the economy, it will also lead to higher wages and take-home pay for Iowans.
Last year the Legislature unanimously acted to increase and improve the skills of Iowa’s workforce beyond a high school degree and supported the initiative with a $17.5 million commitment. The goal of Future Ready Iowa is to ensure Iowans are prepared for the careers of today and tomorrow and creates opportunities for Iowans of all ages and experiences through programs focused on high school students, higher education and employers.
High school students have access to summer internships where they can gain on-the-job work experiences and the necessary skills to be successful in the workplace. They will also have the option to take free college level courses in the summer correlating with a high-demand career following graduation.
To reach the 70 percent goal established by Governor Reynolds, it will take more than just new high school graduates.
For those who need assistance finishing a post high school degree or certification, the Legislature created an education "Last Dollar Scholarship" program incentivizing and assisting Iowans to learn the skills needed to secure a successful career in a high-demand field. This program will play a significant role in helping businesses develop their talent pipeline and hire the skilled workforce they need.
The Legislature also created an education grant program to encourage Iowans to continue their education beyond a two-year degree. This program is designed to incentivize Iowans who have completed at least half of their degree in a high-demand field and assist them in finishing the journey towards securing a degree and a successful career.
Employers are also encouraged to invest in the workforce. The Legislature created an employer innovation program aimed at encouraging new and creative ways to train and attract workers to high-demand jobs and careers. A volunteer mentor program was created to foster mentorships and assist students who are about to enter the workforce in a high-demand field. These connections often play a critical role for students who are looking for career advice and networking opportunities. Additionally, the Legislature worked to encourage apprenticeships with smaller businesses to develop talent in Iowa through the Future Ready Iowa program.
Future Ready Iowa will help businesses grow and encourage individual Iowans to adapt to a changing economy to find new and better careers. It gives Iowans the opportunity to learn a high-demand skill. The focus is not just "get a job to pay the bills," but have a rewarding and economically strong career as well. With citizens well-equipped and well trained for the jobs of today and tomorrow, Iowa will be closer to reaching its full workforce potential.