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Skilled Iowa’s goal is to develop skilled, educated labor force

Published: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 11:46 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 12:07 p.m. CDT

Skilled Iowa is a program designed to help fill labor issues facing not only Newton, but the State of Iowa. Iowa Workforce Development Communications Director Kerry Koonce believes that keeping jobs in Iowa is very important.

“Factory jobs are becoming harder to find, and the State of Iowa does not want to lose employers,” Koonce said. “It’s about getting the labor force skilled and educated. The State is covering the cost.”

The issue that Skilled Iowa hopes to solve is the lack of middle skilled workers. There is a 53 percent demand for middle skilled workers and 33 percent of those jobs are filled. Middle skill demand is expected to rise. Through proper training potential employers can be issued a Career Readiness Certificate.

The program is nationally recognized. Other states have pushed for the program, including Georgia and Michigan. The assessment was developed from the makers of the ACT test. The evaluation concentrates on reading, location information and applied math.

Additional goals to the program include:

• Increase the number of employers/businesses that support and recognize the program.

• Encourage Iowa employers to offer the internship program to qualified participants.

• Create unique on-the-job training environments for Iowans.

Gov. Terry E. Branstad has made the program a priority. He is visiting communities who support it. In order to have the governor visit, a certain percentage of businesses must use the program.

Tim Albrecht, communications director for Gov. Branstad, said the governor is very excited about the program.

“It matches employers who need skilled workers,” Albrecht said. “It creates a relationship that could last for years. It is a bipartisan effort.”

One of the main reasons why the state is pushing for the certification program is because Gov. Branstad met with employers and the biggest concern was a lack of a skilled work force.

There will be four levels of ranking assessment: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

The state does realize that not everyone can get trained right away. As a result, there is no set timetable for when the program will end.

“You can move at your own speed,” Koonce said.”The program is very flexible. If you score low in test, you can retake it.”

The State does not want the program to be a temporary fix. Koonce explained that involving the youth is important.

“If we can get people who are juniors and seniors in high school, it will preserve our future workforce,” Koonce said.

Frank Liebl of the Newton Development Corporation is a strong supporter of the program.

“The program has a lot of merit,” Liebl said. The biggest challenge will be getting the students tested, and making sure employers know what the program is about.”

Des Moines Community College (DMACC) and the Iowa Workforce Development have been going around to businesses to inform them of the program. Liebl believes that the program will see results in 2013.

“Since 2008 Newton has replaced 1,500 jobs,” Liebl said.

Liebl does admit that the jobs out there may not be as high paying as previous ones, but it is still important to have jobs. He hopes that the certification movement will bring new businesses to Newton. He believes the program has a lot of potential.

Matthew Shepard can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 425 or via email at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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