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Branstad's Skilled Iowa Initiative aiming to bridge wide gap in state's unskilled workforce

Monday, June 18, 2012

(Photo)
Republican State Senate District 6 candidate Mark Segebart (left) talks campaign strategy with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds following a press conference in Storm Lake Wednesday regarding the governor's new initiative for increasing the state's middle-skill workforce. / Photo by Ashley Miller
While middle-skill professions such as manufacturing and health care are growing in leaps and bounds across the state, a large portion of the general workforce is falling behind, lacking core skills for 50 percent of the state's jobs.

"As governor, I am committed to the creation of 200,000 new jobs in Iowa," Gov. Terry Brandstad said, during a press conference at Buena Vista University Wednesday afternoon. "In order for that to happen, it's important that Iowa's workforce is developing the skills necessary to meet the growing needs in the state."

In March, the governor toured major industries in Storm Lake, hearing countless times that middle-skill workers were desperately needed. The same pattern is echoed across the state by employers both large and small, he said.

Statistics provided by the Labor Force and Occupational Analysis Bureau indicate a significant gap between jobs available and qualified workers for the middle skill level. Across Iowa, 50 percent of jobs are middle skill, non-farming positions, but only 33 percent are qualified to fill such positions.

In Iowa Workforce Development Region 5, which includes Buena Vista, Pocahontas, Humboldt, Wright, Calhoun, Webster and Hamilton Counties, production operations, such as welders and computer-controlled machine tool operators, top the regions' need.

Projected need for the field in 2018 is 11,075 workers, up 285 from estimates for 2008. Other vital middle-skill positions that will experience growth in the next six years are office and administrative support, sales and food preparation.

Pay for middle-skill employment is often on pace or above an area's average, but typically requires more than a high school diploma or GED, but less education than a four-year degree, such as an associate's degree, certification or apprenticeship.

Approximately 38 percent of workers fall into the low-skill jobs category, but only 18 percent of such jobs are available statewide.

To fulfill the growing need for a middle-skill workforce, Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds launched the Skilled Iowa Initiative earlier this week to assist Iowans with receiving "new jobs and skills of the future."

The effort is a bipartisan, public/private sector initiative. Bill Knapp, a prominent businessman, philanthropist and Democrat from Des Moines recently partnered with the Governor to support and promote the program.

"Regardless of political party, we can work together to grow the Iowa workforce and make sure Iowa workers have the skills for the jobs that are being created here in Storm Lake and across the state," Branstad said.

One tenet of the Initiative is ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which details a job seeker's skills in reading information, locating information and math, three critical skill sets for today's workforce. After testing, workers can qualify for bronze, gold, silver or platinum certification, then seek a job that meets their skill set.

"By measuring work-related behaviors, combined with hard skills, employers are able to identify individuals likely to excel in their organization, decreasing training costs and increasing retention," Branstad explained.

In less than five years, the state has awarded 13,204 NCRCs to individuals, with 632 businesses participating statewide.

Statewide 2012 goals for the NCRC program include increasing the numbers of employers who support and recognize the certificate, encouraging an increasing number of job seekers to add the certificate to their portfolio, making KeyTrain available to all Iowans and employers and determining how to best implement an economic development strategy to fill current and future jobs with a skilled workforce.

The Initiative is dedicated to creating skilled Iowa communities, areas across the state that have a demonstrated, certified labor supply for current employers, the governor stated, noting the certified labor pool also serves as a marketing tool for economic development officials as they work to attract specific companies.

The second tenet of the Initiative is providing eight-week internship opportunities with companies for Iowans currently on unemployment benefits. At the end of the eight weeks of training, a job seeker may have the opportunity to pursue full-time positions within an organization if they are deemed to be a good fit.

Visit skillediowa.org to learn more.



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