Future Ready Iowa Reaches Workforce Education Goal Two Years Ahead of Schedule

Support programs offered by the organization include grants, apprenticeships, summer internships and commercial driver’s license training.

This is a graphic of the Future Ready Iowa logo.
Future Ready Iowa has reached its goal of providing education or training to 70% of Iowans two years early. (Future Ready Iowa)

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Two years ahead of schedule, Future Ready Iowa has reached its goal of ensuring 70% of Iowans in the workforce have some form of education or training after high school.

Despite making it to this milestone, Iowa’s business and academic leaders say they are still working to fill labor gaps in high-need industries.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds set the goal when she signed the Future Ready Iowa Act in 2018 with the aim of bolstering and expanding the state’s workforce through the creation of resources and funding for learners, educators and employers.

Community Colleges for Iowa Executive Director Emily Shields said it’s necessary to make postsecondary learning more accessible, as a high school education alone isn’t enough to find gainful employment.

“The careers of today and the future, nearly all of them require education or training beyond high school,” Shields said. “So if we want our economy to be successful and families to be successful in our economy, that’s just something that I would say nearly everyone needs.”

Support programs offered by Future Ready Iowa include grants for creating and expanding child-care resources, apprenticeships, summer internships and commercial driver’s license training, as well as scholarships for students looking to close the gap between financial aid and the cost of attending post-secondary education or training.

Last-Dollar Scholarships and Future Ready Iowa Grant funding are limited to those exploring high-demand jobs, which are in fields that include manufacturing, construction, education and health care.

Kirkwood Community College President Kristie Fisher said the Future Ready Iowa program has pointed community colleges in the same direction in terms of addressing workforce needs, and connected them with the employers to learn what issues they’re facing and the funding and resources to help tackle them.

“We spend a lot of time talking with our local partners to see what they need and figuring out how we, as Kirkwood, can fill that, and our colleagues across the state all do that,” Fisher said. “All the community colleges are really good at doing that work.”

A huge focus of the college is on workforce needs, in both its degree and non-degree paths. While Kirkwood has seen growth in its two-year programs, Fisher said, what’s been more exciting is the expansion of its short-term training, in which students earn credentials or certification in a career path and can quickly enter the workforce.

In the past four years, Kirkwood has taught around 1,300 low-income students, helping them find the funds for tuition and books, with almost 80% completing the training. This is a significant percentage, Fisher said, given the barriers these people face to undergoing training and looking for work.

Shields said Community Colleges for Iowa and the colleges it serves have worked to match the programs and resources they offer to the needs of people and the economy, including expanding short-term training and credential programs.

Last-Dollar Scholarships have helped more students get into these trainings, Fisher said, because they can be applied where some federal funding cannot. Going even further, Iowa Association of Business and Industry Vice President of Public Policy JD Davis said these scholarships have helped employers fill jobs.

“When we’ve identified what is needed in the community for job training, and then the training goes to a kid that’s going to go through the community college, that really has changed the quality of the applicants that show up for work,” Davis said. “So that’s been tremendously successful.”

However, Iowa is still seeing workforce shortage in certain industries even as the qualified workforce grows. Davis said the association’s main legislative session priorities revolve around the same issues as years past: workforce needs and barriers to employment. Those barriers include access to child care, training and housing.

One of Reynolds’ workforce priorities in Vision for Iowa is refocusing on current high school students as Iowa’s next generation of workers, and using Future Ready Iowa programs to prepare them for finding careers in high-demand jobs.

That would include creating a $30 million fund to support work-based learning programs with existing funding and changing the Last Dollar Scholarship program to reward students with work-based learning experience and in high-demand industries. Fisher and Shields both said they’re interested to see how this could change the scholarships and how they are awarded, assuming it is implemented.

Fisher said employers often thank her for the work Kirkwood is doing in trying to meet workforce needs, but the jobs left empty during the COVID-19 pandemic and after due to retirements and more are still keenly felt. Community colleges, employers and the statehouse need to keep working together and supporting each other to continue to fill these gaps.

“Even though … it was wonderful to be able to kind of celebrate the success of the program, one of the real successes of the program is going to be that we’re going to continue to do the work,” Fisher said. “There’s acknowledgement that we need to continue to do those things, and we know we will because we built capacity over the life of Future Ready Iowa to be able to do that work.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today