Business

Iowa sees need for apprenticeships in more fields

Recruiting as they grow

Caleb Etzel of Cedar Rapids assembles a prototype of a copper iPad holder in the Jones Hall plumbing lab at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. The project will be made by girls in a STEM camp in January. The students are in a 9-month diploma program, which includes an internship, after which they will spend four years as apprentices before becoming journey-level plumbers. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Caleb Etzel of Cedar Rapids assembles a prototype of a copper iPad holder in the Jones Hall plumbing lab at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. The project will be made by girls in a STEM camp in January. The students are in a 9-month diploma program, which includes an internship, after which they will spend four years as apprentices before becoming journey-level plumbers. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — From plumbing and electrician shops to software and application developers, employers across the state are in need of a talented workforce.

So a growing number of those business owners are turning to apprenticeship programs to find skilled workers or train their existing staff new skills.

In the past year alone, more than 100 Iowa employers joined a growing statewide program that connects employers with apprentices or provides the infrastructure for their own apprenticeship programming.

“We have so many good ideas, good start-ups and established companies, if they could find more people, they can grow even faster,” said DeLayne Williamson, Business Services Director with the Iowa City Area Development Group. “Some say they’re turning customers away until they get enough staff.”

With that in mind, Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) announced just this past week the launch of an Application Developer Apprenticeship Program, which provides prospective apprentices the programming for class time and full-time work experience to receive an industry-recognized credential in that field. The certificate will meet statewide criteria for the position, which is one of many technology jobs in need of more apprentices, Waller said.

“There are not enough IT workers in the state of Iowa,” said Brian Waller, president of the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI). “There’s a dire need to increase the viability of the IT workforce in the state.”

The program is open to TAI members and businesses across the state and officials say they plan to add more career fields to the program.

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With TAI providing the infrastructure, Iowa businesses will be able to implement the program by offering their employees one or more mentors to guide students through the apprentice program.

Apprenticeship programs such as TAI’s, which combine classes with full-time employment, provide new and existing employees changing career paths the opportunity to gain education and experience in a chosen field.

Founder and CEO of Cedar Rapids IT company Involta Bruce Lehrman said, as an employer and member of TAI’s Executive Committee Board, the TAI program aims to help companies such as his find and develop a talented workforce.

“It’s impacting the ability of companies in the state to continue to recruit as they grow, it’s also impacting our ability to attract companies to move to this area,” Lehrman said. “The goal of this program is to increase the quantity and quality of workers in the state.”

Waller said the TAI program has been in the works since before Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2014 signing of the Iowa Apprenticeship and Job Training Act, which tripled funding for apprenticeships on an annual basis, with a standing appropriation of $3.1 million.

All registered sponsors with the Iowa Apprenticeship program are eligible for funding to use to enhance or expand apprenticeship programs. So far, funds have been used for such means as instruction costs, purchasing equipment to support the program or expanding apprenticeship training opportunities.

Last year, Iowa had more than 600 registered apprenticeship programs, representing about 8,000 apprentices, according to U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

A 2015 report from the office indicates that, as of June, there were 8,259 apprentices enrolled, representing 711 registered programs.

The program’s completion rate for fiscal year 2014 was just over 60 percent.

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However, while apprenticeships do help businesses find and train talented employees, DeLayne Williamson, Business Services Director with the Iowa City Area Development Group, said the state apprenticeship program is one of many tools for local employers. But it isn’t an immediate solution.

“They’re competing for talent with companies larger than them and companies smaller than them all over the country,” she said. “This apprenticeship idea is not a quick fix, but it is a way to grow our own here ... It’s a long-term solution though, it’s not overnight.”

And the demand is projected to only grow from here.

The number of computer programmer jobs — there were 913,000 in 2010 — is expected to jump 30 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same period, the average growth for all other jobs in the country is expected to climb by 14 percent.

‘Ready on day one’

Technology apprenticeships aren’t the only ones getting attention in Iowa.

Last month, Iowa Workforce Development announced an expansion of the $6.175 million Iowa Construction Trades Apprenticeship Job Driven National Emergency Grant. The expansion broadens the scope of the grant to include all 152 currently approved apprenticeship trades in Iowa, including include information technology, construction, manufacturing and health care.

So while IT apprenticeships are on the rise in Iowa, that doesn’t detract from a growing need for apprentices in more traditional trades.

One of the best ways to pursue an apprenticeship is through schools such as Kirkwood Community College.

Jeff Mitchell, dean of industrial technologies at Kirkwood, said there are several fields available to traditional and non-traditional students seeking to advance in the workforce.

One, for example, is a nine-month, 35-credit-hour diploma program that starts students on the path to become a journeyman plumber, a certification needed to practice the trade in Iowa.

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The course, which includes an internship requirement, fulfills the classroom requirement — set by the U.S. Department of Labor — for an apprenticeship. Once the course is completed, many students move directly into an apprenticeship, which fulfills the second requirement of 2,000 hours of work experience under the supervision of a journeyman for four years.

The program, as well as an apprenticeship, makes the employee more attractive to employers and helps business owners by providing a stream of talented workers.

“When they hire one of our graduates, to a certain degree they are work ready on day one,” Mitchell said. “They just come in with a much broader knowledge base they will be of greater value to the employer right off the bat. I think ultimately that will be reflected in their advancement in the company both pay wise and just where they fit into the organization.”

With added programming and funding for apprenticeships — which pulls in more participating businesses seeking their own apprenticeship programs — taking shape across the state, Kim Becicka, vice president of continuing education and training services at Kirkwood, said the success, and talent, of Iowa’s workforce will only grow.

“I think this will gather more momentum as employers actually get approval for their programs and can speak through word-of-mouth,” she said.

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