Education

Rethinking college at Future Ready Iowa

Speakers suggest internships, asking advice from employers

Attendees are shown Thursday at a session of the Future Ready Iowa Summit in Des Moines. Speakers were invited to think about how Iowa can get 70 percent of its workforce with training beyond high school by 2025. Two speakers suggested students — and future employers — benefit from students in internships and in selecting careers in demand that will lead to jobs after graduation. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Attendees are shown Thursday at a session of the Future Ready Iowa Summit in Des Moines. Speakers were invited to think about how Iowa can get 70 percent of its workforce with training beyond high school by 2025. Two speakers suggested students — and future employers — benefit from students in internships and in selecting careers in demand that will lead to jobs after graduation. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — An internship or a part-time job may be more important to getting a good, full-time job than getting all A’s in high school or college, a Gallup executive told those attending the Future Ready Iowa Summit in Des Moines this week.

Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s executive director of education and workforce development, said a Gallup survey showed only 5 percent of high school students had interned with a community organization or employer and only 17 percent had worked an hour or more at a paid job.

“The No. 1 thing wanted by employers from graduates are students who had a job or internship experience,” Busteed said. “Employers would exchange a ‘B’ student who had an internship for an ‘A’ student without one. That’s a really important message for all of us in the audience today.”

Busteed’s remarks came at the summit in a day filled with speeches, breakout sessions and symposiums about encouraging Iowans to pursue career opportunities in advanced manufacturing and high-skill service careers.

The event was held in tandem with the Future Ready Iowa Act, which Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signed into law this week. The law’s goal is to have 70 percent of the state’s workforce obtain education or training beyond high school by the year 2025.

Manufacturing

Nicole Smith, chief economist of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce, said people need to step outside the assumption that “a good job” requires a four-year college degree.

Smith said her research shows 36 million jobs in the nation today require a bachelor’s degree, and 30 million jobs do not require one.

In Iowa, she said, two out of five jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree.

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From a pay scale perspective, Smith said 8 million jobs in 2015 paid between $45,000 and $55,000 a year, and 16 million jobs paid $55,000 and up.

And not all of these good jobs require a college degree, she said.

“In looking at these ‘good’ jobs, the narrative that all these jobs have gone away is not complete,” Smith said. “There are many of these jobs that still exist.”

Smith said that while automation has taken many manufacturing jobs, many manufacturing jobs still exist, but they require specific training and mastering of skills.

That also applies to careers in nursing and medical technology, as well as jobs in machine working and computer coding.

According to Smith’s research, 40 years ago each manufacturing worker contributed about $100,000 toward economic output in a time when manufacturing was 30 percent of the American economy.

Today, each manufacturing employee contributes about $300,000 of economic output.

Finding jobs

Busteed, from Gallup, also talked about the disconnect between postsecondary education and employment.

A Gallup survey of college graduates, he said, showed only 5 percent of the graduates felt prepared for their career upon graduation, while 95 percent did not.

The poll found 33 percent of graduates said it had taken them “several months or longer” to find a “good job” — fulfilling with a sustainable wage — after graduating. Another 27 percent opted to go to graduate school.

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Gallup’s research found a college graduate’s chances of being successful in a job doubled when they had been required to do semesterlong projects in their chosen area of study, had supportive and challenging professors and academic departments, and held an internship.

Involve employers

Busteed said that Gallup’s research also revealed one important indicator is not being considered in rethinking the importance and relevance of a college education.

“It turns out that when asked where adults ‘in careers’ got advice for college and what to major in, the top-rated advice comes from the least used source — employers,” Busteed said. “Grads who got advice from an informal source at an internship, from an employer — that advice was more helpful than any advice source, more than formal counseling sources.”

Busteed said the nation has an opportunity to have students get opinions and input from employers in helping them pick careers. Employers also can help students get experience in those careers early so they can capitalize on the education they receive.

Busteed encouraged high school counselors to set up meetings between students and employers to begin the career choosing process.

Americans are now carrying $1.4 trillion in college loan debt — and sometimes it isn’t paying off.

Smith echoed Busteed’s sentiments in stating that the country has to have a better “p.r. campaign” in selling young students and graduates that today’s manufacturing jobs are not manual, repetitive labor, but rather jobs that take skill and creativity.

“What we have is a perfect storm here of increasing difficulty in repayment of student loans and the level of burden felt in society by decisions we make and paying back those loans,” Smith said. “This is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but we must have it. ... We need to pay attention to the decisions we make about the jobs you select.”

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