With the state pursuing numerous strategies to address workforce shortages — rolling out scholarships, hosting summits and supporting employer innovation — Kirkwood Community College again is teaming with a local collaborative to evaluate the specific needs of Eastern Iowa.
“We know employers struggle at times to find the right candidates for their open positions,” said Jennifer Daly, president and CEO of ICR Iowa, a joint venture between the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and the Iowa City Area Development Group that is working with Kirkwood on the ICR Skills Talent Forecast 2022.
“This data will help us continue to align our talent attraction and pipeline strategies with the positions in highest demand and most challenging to fill in our region,” Daly said.
The survey, distributed this week to more than 650 employers in seven Eastern Iowa counties asking executives to forecast their needs come 2022, isn’t the first — with iterations dating back to 2000, according to Kim Becicka, Kirkwood vice president of Continuing Education and Training Services.
But the survey — which produced projections for 2000, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2019 — has evolved and gained as a partner the new collaborative just before the 2019 assessment, Becicka said. Adding more survey questions this year, the group also is looking for potential differences in its results — considering Iowa is rushing to fill unmet job needs as employers’ demands shift and advance.
“There may be a couple of occupations that we are curious to see if they may be growing,” Becicka said. “We’re particularly interested in any type of growth of any type of position that involves automation, software components, virtual reality, AI, simulated testing environments — because we’re hearing that’s coming.”
An assessment of Iowa’s economy has determined it will need 70 percent of its workforce to have some form of education or training beyond high school by 2025.
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Progress has been slow, with 61 percent of Iowans reporting at least some college education in 2018, according to the most recent Condition of Higher Education report.
That’s prompted Gov. Kim Reynolds to up her advocacy of a Future Ready Iowa initiative aimed at bolstering Iowa’s talent pipeline through employer funds, apprenticeship resources and scholarships for students signing up for training in those fields with the highest needs.
But surveying employers about their specific needs helps policy makers and educators fine-tune their advocacy and offerings. Kirkwood uses results to decide which programs to promote or which certificates to establish.
“For Kirkwood, it helps us to take a step back and review that data and then also look at our programs — are the programs we’re offering hitting these occupations?” Becicka said. “Does it provide us with a view of some new programs that we potentially need to be developing? Does it say, ‘Hey, we need to hold some forums with some industries based on some trends that we’re seeing?’”
Kirkwood’s 2006 study, for example, revealed employers were struggling to find employees with the “soft skills” they wanted — including the ability to communicate effectively, give presentations, think critically and creatively, and provide leadership within a team setting.
“So we started an initiative after that one called ‘skills advantage’ to help work with individuals and employers to be able to quantify their sub-skill level when applying for occupations,” Becicka said. “So we have developed some initiatives as a result of when we get the data back.”
Questions in this year’s survey range from multiple choice to text-entry to queries tailored to specific industries — such as, “How will technology (e.g., automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, etc.) impact your hiring over the next five years?”
The original 2000 survey polled 33 companies and found they projected needing 19,400 new and replacement workers through 2005 — indicating a “full 51 percent of the existing workforce will need to be replaced.”
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By contrast, the 2019 survey included 142 employers who reported needing mostly engineers and production employees — with many listing recruiting and retention as their top priorities over the next year.
The new data — which must be collected by Feb. 14 to be shared in an aggregate report in May — will be used specifically to develop and implement talent attraction, retention and pipeline strategies, Becicka said.
“This data is critical to the work that we do at Kirkwood Community College in partnership with regional employers and organizations,” she said. “We need to understand the local occupational demands to ensure that we have the right programs, curriculum, educational platforms, and career knowledge that benefit both employers and students.”
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