Iowa business leaders hopeful of positive impact from new workforce law

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will streamline development systems

(The Gazette)
(The Gazette)

Local business leaders are hopeful a new workforce innovation law adopted last week will give a boost to the workforce development efforts in Eastern Iowa, they said.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was passed by the House and Senate this month and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Tuesday. The law was designed to better align the skills employers need to compete globally with education and training services,

“This really is a landmark that we finally have the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act,” said Kim Becicka, vice president of continuing education and training services at Kirkwood Community College.

The law streamlines workforce development systems, including eliminating 15 existing program, which is supposed to make it easier on those seeking help and those administering the programs, such as Kirkwood.

Job-training providers will be expected to partner with businesses to tailor services to regional needs, and the law adds new accountability through reporting requirements and uniform metrics.

The unemployed, high school dropouts, the working poor, and those with disabilities, are among the populations the law intends attract.

According to an informational sheet prepared by the U.S. Senate, by 2022, there will be an 11 million shortfall of college or vocationally educated workers in the U.S.

Iowa Workforce Development said it still is compiling state figures.

Perhaps most important is the enactment of a law itself, she said. It took years of continuing resolutions before the law finally passed, she said. It is the first legislative reform in 15 years of the public workforce system, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Just having the law is an important recognition of workforce needs, and helps remove some threats to funding for workforce programs, Becicka said.

Becicka said the law, which doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2015, will require some changes at Kirkwood, such as to its regional investment board. However, Kirkwood has a head start on some of the requirements.

For example, Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment, or KPACE. The program connects the unemployed with job training, and continued opportunities for advancement in a given field, she said.

Around Eastern Iowa, economic development officials say the law should help the area.

“We have heard from our Iowa City Area Chamber members that education and workforce development opportunities are critical,” said Nancy Quellhorst, president and chief executive of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. “Their need to find skilled employees and to compete and create jobs, is a recurring issue for many of our local businesses.”

Allison Antes, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance workforce strategist, said the law will provide tools needed to address workforce challenges.

“As this legislation becomes reality, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will monitor its effect to our region,” Antes said in an email. “We are lucky to live in a region that has strong existing workforce development leaders, such as Kirkwood, and we need to ensure their good work is only enhanced by this legislation.”

Dan Reed, vice president for research and economic development at University of Iowa, said Iowa has a strong network of community colleges to help the workforce adapt and retrain, and this law should support that effort.

“From that perspective, I believe the federal government’s recognition of the importance of job training programs and the need to modernize will have a positive impact,” Reed said in an email.

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