Iowa’s largest employers -- the 21 member companies of the Iowa Business Council -- currently have more than 3,400 job openings to fill, which is an indicator of the importance of the state’s efforts to address gaps between workers’ skills and available positions, says Georgia Van Gundy, the council’s executive director. Van Gundy accompanied Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Excellence in Education Summit held Nov. 8 in Des Moines to update educators on the Future Ready Iowa Alliance.

Not surprisingly, the Iowa Business Council’s members cited workforce issues as their top concern in its third-quarter economic survey, Van Gundy told educators. 

On Oct.17, the Future Ready Iowa Alliance released a draft of five recommendations for achieving a statewide goal of having 70 percent of Iowa's workforce attain education or training beyond high school by 2025. Currently, 58 percent of Iowans have some postsecondary education or training, meaning that 127,700 more workers would need additional training to meet the 70 percent goal. 

Reynolds emphasized that the initiative is focused on taking existing best practices and programs -- such as dual enrollment of high school students in community college courses and pre-apprenticeship programs -- and spreading them across the state. 

As part of the effort, “I think we need to do a better job of changing the conversation, to let Iowans know that good jobs are available without a four-year degree,” she said. 

According to Iowa Workforce Development data, some of the fastest-growing middle-skills jobs in Central Iowa don’t require a college degree, among them health field positions such as dental hygienists and occupational therapy assistants and trades like carpenters and brick masons. Average salaries for some of these middle-skill jobs range from $45,000 for carpenters to nearly $71,000 for dental hygienists. 

Future Ready Iowa is funded by a grant from the National Governors Association and is an effort “to build Iowa’s talent pipeline,” its website says.

Reynolds said the Future Ready initiative will be announcing an executive director and hiring a marketing firm later this month, and urged educators to get on board. 

“We’ll get you a T-shirt, we’ll get you a logo, we’ll get you a playbook,” she told summit attendees. “We need you to get this done.”