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Future Ready Iowa Achieves Workforce Education Goal Two Years Ahead of Schedule
Iowa Achieves 70% Workforce Education Goal Two Years Early
Future Ready Iowa has successfully achieved its goal of ensuring 70% of Iowans in the workforce have acquired some form of education or training after high school, surpassing expectations by two years.
Although this milestone is a significant accomplishment, business and academic leaders in Iowa acknowledge the ongoing need to address labor gaps in high-demand industries.
Governor Kim Reynolds established the goal when she signed the Future Ready Iowa Act in 2018. The act aims to strengthen and expand Iowa’s workforce by providing resources and funding for learners, educators, and employers. More information about this initiative can be found here.
According to Emily Shields, Executive Director of Community Colleges for Iowa, it is essential to enhance accessibility to postsecondary education, as a high school diploma alone is insufficient for securing well-paying jobs.
“The careers of today and the future almost all require education or training beyond high school. So if we want our economy to be successful and families to thrive, nearly everyone needs additional education,” says Shields.
The support programs offered by Future Ready Iowa encompass grants for creating and expanding child-care resources, apprenticeships, summer internships, commercial driver’s license training, and scholarships to bridge the financial gap between aid and the cost of postsecondary education or training.
Last-Dollar Scholarships and Future Ready Iowa Grant funding are available to individuals interested in pursuing high-demand jobs such as manufacturing, construction, education, and healthcare.
Kristie Fisher, President of Kirkwood Community College, highlights the alignment of community colleges through the Future Ready Iowa program. The program connects community colleges with employers to address their specific workforce needs and provides the necessary funding and resources to tackle those challenges.
“All the community colleges have been effective in collaborating with local partners to determine their needs and how we, as educational institutions, can meet those needs,” explains Fisher.
Kirkwood Community College places a strong emphasis on both degree and non-degree programs to meet workforce demands. While the college has witnessed growth in its two-year programs, Fisher finds the expansion of short-term training particularly exciting. This training equips students with industry-specific credentials or certifications, allowing them to quickly enter the workforce.
Over the past four years, Kirkwood has assisted approximately 1,300 low-income students in securing funding for tuition and books, with an impressive completion rate of nearly 80%. Fisher emphasizes the significance of this achievement, given the barriers these individuals face in accessing training and seeking employment.
Shields further mentions that Community Colleges for Iowa and the colleges they serve continuously adapt their programs and resources to cater to the needs of individuals and the economy. This includes expanding short-term training and credential programs.
Fisher highlights the effectiveness of Last-Dollar Scholarships in enabling more students to pursue such training, as they can be used in cases where federal funding falls short. JD Davis, Vice President of Public Policy at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, emphasizes that these scholarships have greatly aided employers in filling job vacancies.
“By aligning community college training with local job market needs, the quality of applicants has significantly improved. This has been tremendously successful,” says Davis.
Despite the growth in the qualified workforce, certain industries in Iowa continue to face shortages. Davis identifies workforce needs and barriers to employment, such as access to child care, training, and housing, as the main priorities for the association’s legislative session.
Governor Reynolds aims to refocus on current high school students as Iowa’s future workers by incorporating Future Ready Iowa programs. The goal is to prepare students for careers in high-demand fields. This involves allocating a $30 million fund to support work-based learning programs using existing funding and modifying the Last Dollar Scholarship program to reward students for their work-based learning experience and their pursuit of high-demand jobs. Fisher and Shields express their curiosity regarding the potential impact of these modifications, pending their implementation.
Fisher reveals that employers often express gratitude for Kirkwood’s efforts to meet workforce needs. However, the impact of job vacancies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and retirements remains significant. Community colleges, employers, and state government must continue collaborating and supporting each other to address these gaps.
“While it is wonderful to celebrate the success of the program, our real success lies in our continued commitment to this work. We recognize the need to persist in our efforts, and we have built the capacity to do so throughout the Future Ready Iowa initiative,” states Fisher.