Reynolds: Iowa economic growth requires skilled workers

(Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau) Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses the importance to Iowa’s economy of having skilled, educated workers to fill high-demand jobs of the future during the Excellence in Education Summit Wednesday in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she hopes 2018 is the year the state can eliminate “the disconnect” between high-demand jobs and the educational and skills training it takes for many Iowans to land them.

The Reynolds administration has a Future Ready Iowa goal for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education, training or recognized certification beyond high school by 2025, and an alliance of leaders in business, industry, education and other fields has formulated a strategic plan to achieve that result.

“Everything is starting to coalesce,” Reynolds told participants at an Excellence in Education Summit hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and United Way of Central Iowa. “There’s been a lot of great efforts happening across the state over the past several years, and they’re really all starting to align.”

To achieve the goal, Reynolds said an additional 127,700 Iowans need to earn postsecondary degrees and other credentials so they have the qualifications for jobs that are in demand and pay a living wage — given that careers now and in the future require advanced knowledge and technical skills beyond what is learned in high school.

Among the strategies the alliance recommended was the establishment of a “Last-Dollar” Scholarship and Future Ready Iowa Grant Program. It would help bridge the financial divide with money for Iowans seeking up to an associate degree at Iowa colleges and universities or for Iowans seeking a bachelor’s degree who already have earned more than half the credits in a major leading to a high-demand job.

Other ideas called for better aligning and expanding the existing “ecosystem of support” for Iowans who are beginning or returning to complete college or career training with a focus on low-income Iowans and Iowans who are underrepresented minorities. The alliance also urged high-quality work-based learning experiences in high-demand careers to all students with employer-based pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship and internship programs.

“We talk a lot about growing the economy and right now that means workers,” Reynolds said after the meeting.

Reynolds said she won’t know until the Revenue Estimating Conference meets next month how much new state money will be available for fiscal 2019, but she expects money for education and the workforce initiatives will get priority consideration.

“I definitely want to put some money behind it because it’s one of my No. 1 priorities,” she said. “We’re going to have to be strategic about where we’re putting it.”

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