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Getting Iowa’s workforce Future Ready

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Future Ready Iowa (FRI) Act in April, paving the way for the state’s future workforce to get the education and skills employers around Iowa are looking for.

With unanimous bipartisan support, the goal of FRI is to see that 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce has education and training beyond high school.

“Future Ready Iowa is a statewide initiative to ensure that we’ve got the education and training that’s needed for our jobs, and with that it could be a certificate program, a diploma program, a two-year program,” said April Hughes, employment and business services with IowaWORKS. “Basically, it’s wanting all individuals to have a post-secondary plan.”

While a component of FRI is education, Hughes said that is only part of the equation. As society has leaned toward a more education-centered pathway to a career, going to school and sitting in a classroom all day doesn’t give students real-life hands-on experience.

Through FRI, students are given opportunities to work with business partners on projects for the business. Such partnerships give the student the hands-on training they need, and also gives them a glimpse into what can be expected if they continue down the career path they have chosen or introduces them to a career they had not considered.

“From a K-12 perspective, we’re giving the students the opportunity to go in and work with a partner to solve an authentic problem,” said Stephanie Lane, digital learning specialist of Green Hills Area Education Agency. “In doing that, we believe that students will have an opportunity and exposure to explore other career pathways. They can determine if maybe that is not the path they’re looking for. They can have a better understanding of maybe what they do want to do, and kids that maybe traditionally wouldn’t have taken that college path, this might give them that push to maybe look at that.”

For towns like Creston, the partnerships between businesses and students is a huge focus, said Hughes. FRI is designed to create work-based learning opportunities that connect a business with a student for student-led projects. The student learns the work that is done in the business and also how it ties into what they are learning in school, learning that they actually need the math and other skills they learn, such as conflict resolution and problem solving.

In addition to getting Iowa’s future workforce ready to enter a career, these partnerships with businesses can give students a better idea of what their community has to offer in the hopes of keeping Iowa’s workforce in Iowa.

“We want them to get involved,” said Lane. “Go to college, live their life, be excited and then come home and put their roots down into their local community. That’s another goal.”

With unemployment rates so low, 2.7 percent last month, Hughes said it’s important to make sure Iowa is educating its future workforce, but the state is also looking at people within the communities that might not fit the typical image of an employee, such as disabled individuals or someone who may have a criminal record or a retiree, and helping them get the skills they need to enter, or reenter, the workforce.

“Part of this is opening the eyes to everyone who is wanting to be in the workforce, or if they’re in the workforce, what’s their next step?” said Hughes. “It is really opening their eyes to what businesses really have to offer. Just because a plant is maybe in the manufacturing industry doesn’t mean that there aren’t other types of jobs there that they could really be successful in and enjoy.”

Future Ready Iowa will hold a summit Oct. 25 in Creston designed to bring together students, businesses, educators and other interested community members to discuss how the community can benefit from FRI.

Of the 110 seats available, Hughes said there are 16 left and she would like to fill those seats with business representatives because all other groups invested in the initiative are already well represented.

“I think through all of this, for all parties involved, I think it’s a neat opportunity for us to help students and adults to realize that you have to make the commitment to be a lifelong learner,” said Lane. “In 10 years, there’s going to be these jobs that don’t even exist, so we have to work with these learners and help them to be adaptable. To know that change is probably inevitable and to be comfortable with that change.”

“We really just want to guide the community and students on really making good decisions because it’s a lot of time, money and effort that’s going into schooling – and schooling is great – but just making sure you’re on that path and you’re going to succeed.” said Hughes, “Your chances of succeeding are a lot higher if it’s in the direction that you want to go also.”

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