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Iowa Sets Ambitious Workforce Education Goals

In order to satisfy workforce needs, Iowa is fostering K–12 STEM education and aiming to increase postsecondary education and training via free community college and other measures.

Q1 2018
Iowa State University students work in one of the university's research fields. Iowa State recently won an award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities recognizing the school's excellence in developing an educated workforce.
Iowa State University students work in one of the university's research fields. Iowa State recently won an award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities recognizing the school's excellence in developing an educated workforce.
Editor’s Note: This article was supplied by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which approved and paid for this posting. Iowa is all-in on workforce training. The state has goals set, the measurements in place, and the initiatives clearly identified.


Make no mistake, Iowa is a manufacturing state. In fact, Iowa’s manufacturing employment grew faster than that of any state in the country last year. Those manufacturers — like most nationwide— are vocal about their rapidly increasing need for skilled workers. This industry feedback has spurred Iowa’s leaders to set ambitious workforce education goals.

In her 2018 Condition of the State address, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proposed legislation to enable any Iowan to receive a scholarship to earn a degree or certificate at one of the state’s 15 community colleges free of charge. It is the latest in a string of aggressive actions Iowa is taking to improve its workforce.

For decades, manufacturers have benefited from workers exiting Iowa’s strong public school system (the state holds the highest public graduation rate in the U.S.) and low cost of doing business. Manufacturing contributes more to Iowa’s GDP than any other industry. Agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers like CNH Industrial, Deere & Company, Hagie Manufacturing, Kinze, and Vermeer employ thousands of Iowans. A host of smaller manufacturing and component-part producers and companies down the supply chain employ thousands more.

To be successful in the future, these manufacturers increasingly seek employees with postsecondary education and training, and an increase in individuals with advanced training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Here’s how the state of Iowa is responding.

Iowa aims for 70 percent postsecondary education and training
To fully understand the scope of Iowa’s workforce needs, the state commissioned a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study that found 68 percent of Iowa’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2025. Based off this study, Iowa’s leadership has created an initiative called Future Ready Iowa, with a goal for 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. To accomplish this task, Iowa needs to add more than 120,000 workers with postsecondary degrees or credentials.

A group called the Future Ready Iowa Alliance, co-chaired by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Principal Financial President and CEO Dan Houston, is developing this policy. Alliance members will be tasked with creating a strategy that reaches not only high school and college-aged individuals but also working adults. It’s a challenge, but not an insurmountable one in a state where public and private organizations are accustomed to collaboration. For example, Iowa already has a host of programs in place to help employers affordably train workers in partnership with the state’s network of 15 community colleges. Employers like insurer Cottingham & Butler in Dubuque have used these programs to create a steady stream of qualified talent.

Registered apprenticeships will also serve an important role in meeting the state’s workforce objective. Reynolds is one of two governors serving on President Trump’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. In her 2018 Condition of the State address, Reynolds also proposed $1 million to be allocated to expand Iowa’s current apprenticeship program.

Businesses Partner With Academia to Advance Workforce Skills in Iowa

Iowa’s numerous manufacturing companies and other businesses are taking advantage of the many worker training programs offered at the state’s institutions of higher education.
  1. CNH Industrial

    Burlington, IA

    With more than 600 employees, CNH’s Burlington plant has been producing equipment for CNH Industrial brands since 1937.

  2. Deere & Company

    Iowa

    Deere & Company manufactures agricultural and construction equipment at numerous plants in Iowa, where it also has an engineering and technology center.

  3. Hagie Manufacturing

    Clarion, IA

    Hagie Manufacturing produces agricultural sprayers at its Clarion, Iowa, location.

  4. Kinze

    Hilton, IA

    Kinze Manufacturing is helping to promote manufacturing careers in Iowa.

  5. Vermeer

    Red Oak, IA

    Vermeer’s “yellow iron” is seen on industrial jobsites and farm fields around the world.

  6. Cottingham & Butler

    Dubuque, IA

    Employers like insurer Cottingham & Butler in Dubuque have used the training programs in place at Iowa’s community colleges to create a steady stream of qualified talent.

  7. Iowa State University

    Ames, IA

    Iowa State University has been recognized for excellence in workforce development.

  8. Drake University

    Des Moines, IA

    The ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship at Drake University is one of five centers of the same name, with the others located at ISU Research Park, North Iowa Area Community College, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

  9. North Iowa Area Community College

    St Charles, IA

    North Iowa Area Community College partners with local businesses to provide workers the skills they need.

  10. University of Iowa

    Johnson County, IA

    The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa is committed to being a leader in supporting innovation and entrepreneurial development.

  11. University of Northern Iowa

    Cedar Falls, IA

    University of Northern Iowa industrial technology students — in collaboration with the Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education — are helping children across the state “scale up” their skills as part of “Ramps & Pathways,” an integrative STEM activity.

  12. ISU Research Park

    Ames, IA

    Tenants of the 220-acre ISU Research Park include a number of small startups, as well as bioscience titans like BASF, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Merck; manufacturers like Deere and Company, Siemens, and Vermeer; and Workiva, a software company started by ISU graduates.

Increasing passion in STEM subjects in K-12 students
Iowa high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) tests in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) increased 32 percent from 2012 to 2016. Students typically take AP tests after participating in a related college-level course in high school, so this promising finding indicates greater numbers of Iowa high school students are progressing to upper-level STEM coursework.

This statistic is included in the 2018 Iowa STEM Evaluation Report, which is authored by researchers at Iowa State University (ISU), the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa, for the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

    Other promising findings published in the report include:
  • More than 75 percent of all students statewide indicated they were very interested or somewhat interested in STEM or in pursuing a STEM career in 2016–2017.
  • There has been a 3 percent increase in STEM awards at Iowa’s two-year community colleges, an 18 percent increase at four-year public colleges and universities, and a 7 percent increase at four-year private (not-for-profit) colleges and universities between the periods 2011–2012 to 2014–2015, respectively.
  • Community college STEM diplomas, certificates, and degrees to minority graduates increased 23 percent last year and 144 percent since 2011.
  • There has been an 18 percent increase in STEM degrees awarded to females at Iowa’s two-year community colleges.
Iowa State University recognized for excellence in workforce development
The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) recognized ISU as offering the best workforce development programs of any school in the country.

ISU won the “talent” category of APLU’s annual Innovation and Economic Prosperity awards, which recognizes public research universities for economic engagement programs. ISU won the award for its entrepreneurship programs, private industry consulting services, and STEM programs for K-12 students.

A newly formed Center for Entrepreneurship — The newly formed ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship operates in partnership with the federally funded ISU Small Business Development Center and the ISU Research Park — a more than 220-acre incubator and innovation community. The ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is one of five centers of the same name, with the others located at Drake University, North Iowa Area Community College, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

The center is located on the grounds of the ISU Research Park, which is a mixing pot for innovative companies. Tenants of the ISU Research Park include a number of small startups, as well as bioscience titans like BASF, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Merck; manufacturers like Deere and Company, Siemens, and Vermeer; and Workiva, a software company started by ISU graduates that Fortune recently named “one of the best places to work in tech."

ISU students in any major can pursue entrepreneurial coursework through the center, which offers mentorship and internship opportunities. The center also offers programs and services to businesses at local and statewide levels. ISU’s Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business recently started an undergraduate entrepreneurship major and a master’s and doctorate program in entrepreneurship.
The goal of Iowa's workforce initiative, Future Ready Iowa, is for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. As part of her strategy for reaching the goal, Iowa's governor is pushing for free tuition at the state's community colleges.
The goal of Iowa's workforce initiative, Future Ready Iowa, is for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. As part of her strategy for reaching the goal, Iowa's governor is pushing for free tuition at the state's community colleges.
Decades of consulting for private industry — Iowa State’s College of Business includes CyBIZ Lab, a program offering affordable business consulting services from ISU undergraduate and graduate students. Consulting services are a flat $5,000 fee, and the services help solve business issues with market validation, market research, and product or market viability.

In addition to CyBIZ Lab, for more than 50 years the ISU Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) has provided business consulting services to private industry in Iowa, with the typical client achieving a 200 percent return on investment. CIRAS offers a range of services including, but not limited to, engineering consulting from ISU’s nationally ranked engineering program, business marketing assistance, and supply chain management. CIRAS clients have reported an economic impact of more than $2 billion over the past five years. All three of Iowa’s public universities offer free or reduced-cost business consulting services, with CIRAS at ISU, the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Iowa, and the Center for Business Growth and Innovation at the University of Northern Iowa.

STEM initiatives for K-12 students and teachers — Grade school teachers become researchers at ISU. The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals offers a paid, seven-week program where K-12 educators perform lab research. At the conclusion of the program, the educators receive classroom supplies to teach students real-world lab work.

This is one example of the many STEM initiatives at ISU. The university runs the North Central STEM Hub, one of six regional hubs of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Initiative, to spark student interest in the STEM disciplines.

Iowa K-12 educators can attend workshops through ISU’s Biotechnology Outreach Education Center (BOEC), which teaches them how to do experiments that can be taken back to the classroom. Teachers can also bring classes to the BOEC to teach lessons in two state-of-the-art laboratories.

The ISU Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) engages women of all ages in programs designed to increase girls’ interest in STEM careers. High school girls have the opportunity to attend a yearly STEM careers conference and a week-long summer engineering camp. WiSE offers female student mentors to visit K-12 classrooms throughout Iowa. The mentors engage young students in STEM activities and tell them about university studies, to open their minds to possible career paths.

The ISU Engineering for Kids program offers a number of summer camps for children as young as six. A new summer camp is designed for students from two inner-city elementary schools to encourage STEM interest and college attendance among minority students.
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