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Advanced Industries Work to Close the Skills Gap

When the nation’s growing gap in skilled workers came to the forefront, Iowa’s leaders quickly mobilized and through public/private partnerships implemented initiatives to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Co-chaired by Iowa’s Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Vermeer CEO Mary Andringa, Iowa’s STEM efforts have garnered national attention among educational and policy leaders in Washington, D.C., as one of the best state models.

Advanced Industries 2014
Quality education and training that fills the pipeline of skilled workers are key drivers of economic growth and prosperity. As the nation faces major workforce hurdles in the coming years, there are a handful of companies and states that are proactively solving the issues to meet future challenges.

When the nation’s growing gap in skilled workers came to the forefront, Iowa’s leaders quickly mobilized and through public/private partnerships implemented initiatives to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Co-chaired by Iowa’s Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Vermeer CEO Mary Andringa, Iowa’s STEM efforts have garnered national attention among educational and policy leaders in Washington, D.C., as one of the best state models.

“We’re a state that collaborates and makes things happen quickly,” says Mary Andringa, CEO, Vermeer Manufacturing Corporation. “And nothing is more evident of this fact than our STEM initiatives.”

To date, more than 3,100 Iowa K–12 classrooms have implemented STEM programs, with nearly 100,000 students involved in the various programs. Awareness of STEM and its importance among Iowans has reached 41 percent in 2013.

Based in Pella for more than 65 years, Vermeer is a global manufacturer of heavy-duty agricultural and industrial equipment like bale processors, compost turners, and pipeline drills. More than 2,400 engineers, machinists, welders, assemblers, IT, logistics, and marketing professionals work in Iowa for Vermeer.

“Our workforce is more than skilled and productive, they are engaged,” says Andringa. “They take great effort to understand the in-market needs of our customers and end-users.”

Vermeer feeds its talent pipeline through extensive college-level co-op programs, internships, and training programs that reach down into the high school and middle school levels. With an office at Iowa State University’s Research Park, several engineering students split their time working for Vermeer on-campus or at the production facility.

Iowa’s network of 15 community colleges offers comprehensive educational programs and often adapts or enhances curriculum to meet the needs of area employers. “By leveraging state funding, we’ve collaborated with Des Moines Area Community College to enhance the welders training program,” Andringa explains. “With this financial and educational support, we’ve been able to elevate the skills of our current welders and add more to our workforce with each session we hold.”

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