DES MOINES — After years at the helm of state initiatives to bolster Iowa’s young workforce, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday signed legislation that establishes apprenticeship, mentor and intern programs to prepare Iowa students for “high-demand career pathways.”
The legislation is at the crux of the governor’s Future Ready Iowa plan, which aims to increase to 70 percent the number of Iowans with post-high school training or education by 2025.
Reynolds signed the legislation into law at the close of the Future Ready Iowa Summit in Des Moines, which was attended by business leaders, educators, students and legislators.
“The bill changes lives by helping Iowans earn credentials that prepare them for rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing, computer science, finance, health care and many other fields,” Reynolds said. “The bill also helps employers hire the skilled workers that they need to grow, which means Iowa communities will be even more prosperous.”
The legislation, House File 2458, breezed through both legislative chambers last month.
“This was one of they very few bills ever passed uncontested and unanimous across the House and the Senate,” said Dan Houston, chief executive officer of Principal and Reynolds’ co-chairman of the Future Ready Iowa Alliance. “From every Democrat and from every Republican that prioritized Iowa first, prioritized education and making sure we’re ready for the next millennium.”
State officials say about 58 percent of the Iowa’s workforce have some training or education beyond high school. To reach the Future Ready goal, 127,700 more Iowans would need to earn postsecondary degrees or other credentials.
The imbalance between employees’ skills and employers’ needs has created an interesting crisis for Iowa, said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who attended the summit.
“When you have a state with an unemployment rate just a little over three percent, and the job crisis is too many jobs, not enough people — that is a great problem to have,” Acosta said.
Acosta, who was appointed to his position by President Donald Trump last year, praised Reynolds, calling her a national leader on workforce issues.
“Washington is very focused on what you’re doing, and here is how we’re going to help: We’re going to get out of your way, and that is a very important message,” Acosta said. “ … We believe that workforce decisions should reflect local variation and should not be made in Washington.”
Acosta said there are some 65,000 unfilled jobs in Iowa, and agreed with backers of the Future Ready Iowa Act that diversifying students’ pathways after high school would help fill them.
“We tell young Americans that college will lead to marketable skills, and that failure to complete college is sometimes failure,” Acosta said.
“Neither is entirely true, and both are somewhat misleading, and it’s a message we need to stop telling young Americans.”
The legislation also establishes an employer innovation fund, scholarships and grant programs and funds, though how those initiatives will be funded is unclear.
The governor has proposed $2.35 million in her fiscal 2019 budget plan, but the Republican-led Legislature has not yet formulated its budget plans.
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Minority Democrats have expressed concern the program will cost $3 million next fiscal year, and could cost as much as $18 million by 2020.
Gazette reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this article.
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