Iowa's community colleges unite to fill worker shortage - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa's community colleges unite to fill worker shortage

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

A new statewide partnership between all of Iowa's community colleges aims to meet the manufacturing sector's demand for skilled workers.

Manufacturing companies all throughout the state say they have lots of open jobs but not enough people skilled enough to fill them.

On Thursday, the state's 15 community colleges met in Iowa City to announce the Iowa Advanced Manufacturing Consortium (I-AM), an unprecedented partnership created with federal dollars to improve Iowa's skilled workforce.

Working as a welder takes training and advanced manufacturing skills, which is why welder Matt Erschen went to Northeast Iowa Community College's welding program.

"It was a nice program because it was very diverse. Not only did they teach us how to weld, but they taught us the head-knowledge of how to weld, the classroom, practical application, but also they taught us how to be good employees," Erschen said. "They gave us a math course, speech course, communications course."

Erschen works for Dubuque manufacturing company Unison Solutions, Inc. His experience is the kind of well-rounded training from Iowa's community colleges that employers like Unison want in an employee.

"Right now we've got, like, 40 employees at Unison," co-owner Dave Broihahan said. "Any given time, probably a third or half of our staff is composed of students from the tech college."

Unison makes biogas compression systems, which requires workers with advanced manufacturing skills, and that's not easy to find.

"We always have a hard time finding people to fill our positions, so we're very selective," Broihahan said. "We're very fortunate with NICC being right in our backyard, we kind of have the chance to get the good students right away, but there's always a shortage and there are a lot of businesses in Dubuque that are all competing for the same workers."

The U.S. Department of Labor gave Iowa's 15 community colleges a combined $12.9 million grant to form the Iowa Advanced Manufacturing Consortium. Through that initiative, the schools will build training capacity by developing non-credit and credit programs to help people gain the credentials and skills needed to land an advanced manufacturing job, which are now ripe for the taking.

Wendy Mihm-Herold is vice president of NICC's Business and Community Solutions. She is working with Iowa's other community colleges to help implement the initiative.

"The career pathways in advanced manufacturing are endless," Mihm-Herold said. "We did a survey just with 27 businesses... In the next two years, they had over 1,200 positions open. That's just with 27 businesses out of our 6,000+ major companies within our district."

Initiative organizers say manufacturing contributes the largest share of Iowa's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), at $25.4 billion annually. That's nearly 18 percent of the state's economy. They say Iowa ranks sixth nationally in percentage of GDP derived from the manufacturing sector.

The new I-AM initiative will target current and prospective advanced manufacturing employees through an assessment program. Through Gov. Branstad's Skilled Iowa Initiative, any Iowan pursuing employment in any industry sector can take the assessment -- called the National Career Readiness Certificate assessment -- at no cost.

People interested can contact their local community college with questions.

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