Parents of teens in Central Iowa received some unexpected mail recently from the Boy Scouts of America’s Mid-Iowa Council. The mailer wasn’t about camping trips, learning first aid or even a scout fundraising campaign. Rather, it was a message about their kids’ career options.

 The mailers sent out to parents of about 45,000 teens in early March were part of a new STEM career awareness campaign that’s being developed as an extension of the Boy Scouts’ Exploring program. The program’s goal is to reach out to parents to encourage their teen to consider manufacturing and other high-demand careers. 

The BSA National Foundation is working with the BSA’s Mid-Iowa Council in Des Moines to generate initial interest in the initiative, which is aimed at increasing the number of Iowa teens who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 

By year-end, the iTech Exploring Pathway Program aims to reach 500 young men and women between the ages of 14 and 20 to enroll them in a new advanced-manufacturing Exploring program. The proposed program will incorporate games, direct experiential learning and activities, employer site visits, and professional mentors as a portal to internships, jobs and postsecondary education opportunities. 

“Our program seeks to build upon the extraordinary results the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council has produced in connecting classroom to careers and in transforming Iowa’s future workforce by helping our youth make connections between school, business and local communities,” said Matt Hill, scout executive and CEO of the Mid-Iowa Council. 

The Mid-Iowa Council, which encompasses 22 counties, is one of the few councils in the nation  in which every one of its major programs grew in participation last year, Hill told business leaders at the kickoff event, held recently at the Science Center of Iowa.  

The council was recently awarded a $25,000 matching grant from the state’s Employer Innovation Fund, which coupled with $25,000 from the council is being used to fund a multichannel outreach effort. Through email, texts, phone calls and direct mail, the initiative seeks to raise awareness of: 

The scope of Iowa’s manufacturing industry. 

The availability of Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarships and workforce grant programs. 

The availability of internships in high-demand jobs. 

The opportunities to earn credit and noncredit credentials for education or training leading to high-demand jobs in Iowa. 

Among the scouting leaders from the BSA National Foundation advising the effort is Mike LoPresti, a Chicago consultant who recently visited Des Moines to help lead an informational meeting for Greater Des Moines business leaders. Jeff Weld, executive director of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council, is also directly involved in the planning efforts.   

 LoPresti, who helped develop the first co-educational Exploring unit in the country several years ago in the field of archeology, was a lead funder to the BSA Foundation in creating a national Innovation Fund. In 2013, he launched an advisory board of 60 C-suite executives from a broad range of industries across the country to address STEM education and careers by asking: “How can we prepare our kids for the next 100 years?” 

His vision is that the Mid-Iowa Council’s iTech Explorer advanced manufacturing program can be replicated by BSA councils across Iowa, and then in additional states before eventually being offered nationwide.   

LoPresti credited the impetus for creating an advanced manufacturing Exploring program in Iowa to retired Rockwell Collins executive Jack Harris. Harris, who retired as director of advanced manufacturing technology for Rockwell Collins in 2011, currently runs a Johnston-based education consulting firm, Harris Innovation Group. 

“The way to get kids to look at these jobs is to get them into manufacturing facilities,” LoPresti said. However, a significant awareness gap exists that must first be bridged, beginning with parents as their key influencers.  

“We think we’ve got the right message for the kids and their families,” he said. 

With the coronavirus pandemic that’s unfolding, the council recently decided to push back the beta testing to this fall, rather than beginning in May, Hill said. 

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For more information about the iTech Explorers program, see this link on the Mid-Iowa Council’s website or contact Mid-Iowa Council Scout Executive Matt Hill at 515-266-2135 or email him.