Iowa building industry takes on closing skills gap

Fund aims to interest young people in construction careers

Gov. Kim Reynolds (right) is joined by Chad Kleppe (left), president and chief executive officer of Master Builders of I
Gov. Kim Reynolds (right) is joined by Chad Kleppe (left), president and chief executive officer of Master Builders of Iowa, and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg (center) on Tuesday outside the MBI headquarters in downtown Des Moines to announce a $5 million endowment designed to partner with schools for programs that help close a “skills gap” in technical and trade areas. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Construction industry officials are pooling their resources and partnering with schools, businesses and charities in hopes of generating interest among Iowans in learning skills and pursuing careers in building and technical fields.

Gov. Kim Reynolds used her weekly news conference Tuesday to draw attention to a new endowment being created by the Master Builders of Iowa that seeks to close a “skills gap” that elected officials and business leaders worry would stifle the state’s economic growth potential if not immediately addressed.

“The formula we’ve been relying on for years isn’t cutting it, so we have to get more creative and bring more people to the table,” said MBI President and Chief Executive Officer Chad Kleppe. He announced the creation of a $5 million MBI WORKS (Workforce Opportunities Require Knowledge and Skills) endowment designed to offer resources to schools, businesses and nonprofits that complement career education and workforce recruitment with the Iowa commercial construction industry.

Reynolds praised the endowment as an example of the “vibrant” public-private partnerships envisioned by her Future Ready Iowa initiative — a plan for 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce between the ages of 25 and 64 to have education or training beyond high school by 2025 as a way to help grow Iowa’s skilled workforce and close the gap between low-skill jobs and those requiring up to an associate degree.

“The biggest barrier to really taking advantage of the capacity of economic growth that we have is workforce and housing,” Reynolds told reporters gathered outside the MBI headquarters in Des Moines.

“By connecting educators, students and business professionals, we are placing Iowa’s young people in the driver’s seat to explore in-demand careers through real-world experiences in the workplace,” the governor said. “These relationships are crucial to filling our talent pipeline with the most job-ready, STEM-savvy workforce in the country.”

Kleppe said the MBI endowment’s 11-member board will take into consideration proposals that are focused on construction career advocacy, as well as other initiatives focused on creating interest in the commercial construction industry.


Requests for proposals are available at and are due by Sept. 3. Submissions from an organization must be sponsored by one or more MBI members. The board will decide by Dec. 15 on the first round of funding in the range of $5,000 to $75,000 for ideas that best fit the mission of the endowment to promote programs and projects that create interest for young people to consider a career in construction, said Kleppe.

The endowment also will undertake partnering efforts with schools to enhance their respective construction and industrial arts curricula, he added.

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