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How will Iowa fill half of work force?

June 16, 2012
Messenger News

Most of Iowa's new jobs this decade will be open to applicants without four-year college degrees.

A new report from Iowa Workforce Development pegs the strongest career potential in professional jobs requiring certification, special training and community college degrees, but not necessarily a bachelor's or master's degree. The report calls these "mid-skill jobs," a misnomer in our opinion. These are highly recruited jobs, many with high pay and offering bright futures. Training is focused on a narrower set of skills, neither higher nor lower than the Ph.D.s or GEDs needed for other jobs.

In employers' eyes, these mid-skill jobs are critical for growth and success. The report released last week seems as much about education reform than economic development.

"Iowa has always touted an excellent education system grounded in a strong K-12 base, a robust community college system and world-class public and private colleges and universities. Unfortunately, Iowa has slipped in recent years compared to other states and nations. As a state, we must embrace the acceptance of career paths that deviate from the traditional four-year college degree.

"One of the most efficient ways to effectively demonstrate the skill level of Iowa workers is through nationally recognized certification programs. ... Iowa must embrace the use of certifications statewide as another avenue for developing the work force related to middle skills."

The future inferred by this report is one of continual training and retraining. It suggests that dynamic, responsive community colleges work continually with private employers to adjust courses to meet changing demands. It also suggests, to us, a need for community colleges to have Board-of-Regents-style clout in the Legislature. The regents oversee three public universities whose high-skilled grads are competing for 32 percent of all Iowa jobs. Community colleges provide the mid-skill training Iowa is relying on to fill 50 percent of all Iowa jobs.

Community colleges aren't just affordable paths to four-year degrees. This new report affirms they are express lanes for Iowans into the work force, and vital to statewide economic development.

- Quad-City Times, May 27



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