DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds’ top legislative priority of upgrading Iowans’ workforce skills is headed to her desk for her expected signature.
Legislation aimed at implementing the governor’s Future Ready Iowa initiative through a variety of public-private components — including mentoring and apprenticeships, scholarships and summer youth employment programs — won bipartisan approval in the Iowa Senate on Monday. The 47-0 Senate vote followed 98-0 passage by the Iowa House last week.
“This bill will have a huge impact on economic growth in the state,” said Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, who served as floor manager for House File 2458.
The goal of H.F. 2458 is to help equip at least 70 percent of Iowa’s workers with training or education beyond high school by the year 2025. About 58 percent of Iowa’s workforce currently has attained that educational level, according to state officials.
The governor and backers of the policy bill say Iowa has a low unemployment rate but the state also faces a shortage of workers with the skills necessary to fill many openings around the state. To bolster work skills the governor proposed $2.35 million in her fiscal 2019 budget plan but the GOP-led Legislature has not formulated its budget plans. Minority Democrats expressed concern the program will cost $3 million next fiscal year and could grow to $18 million in fiscal 2020 without a clear indication where the money will come from.
“If we’re going to get serious, we have to talk about where the money is going to come from. If we’re going to put our money where our mouth is, we have to fund this program,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines. To achieve the 70 percent goal by 2025, 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.
Speaking to reporters after a Waukee event with “first daughter” Ivanka Trump, a special adviser to the president, Reynolds said the Future Ready Iowa initiative in better bipartisan support.
“Everyone knows how important it is that we have a skilled workforce. Jobs creators, businesses all across the state are energized, they tell me business has never been better. They are projecting significant growth. What they just need is people,” the governor said.
“If we want to grow the economy and expand it at a rate I believe we can, we need to get them the people. It’s not just a skills problem, it also is a people problem,” Reynolds added.
Future Ready Iowa involves the regents’ universities, private colleges, community colleges, the Iowa Department of Education, Workforce Development, Economic Development Authority along with the private sector.
Among the strategies recommended by an advisory alliance of more than 60 leaders in business, industry, education and other fields that were incorporated into the legislation were the establishment of a “Last-Dollar” Scholarship and Future Ready Iowa Grant Program to 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 components 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, and expanding high-quality work-based learning experiences in high-demand careers to all students with employer-based pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship and internship programs.
H.F. 2458 calls for the creation of a program for small- and medium-sized apprenticeship sponsors to help smaller businesses participate in registered apprenticeship programs and develop talent in Iowa.
It also creates a volunteer mentor program to support Future Ready programs to assist students in receiving an employment offer in a high-demand field before the end of their academic career, as well as a summer youth internship program for students at risk of not graduating from high school or who might face barriers to success and upward mobility in the labor market.
Before approving the legislation, majority GOP senators rejected two minority-party amendments that sought to target programs to attract more workers in a state with an aging population to nursing, home care and hospice positions and to remove funding for promotional items and activities so the state money flows into critical programs to attract skilled workers.
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Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, a 2018 candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said the Senate should remove promotional and marketing provisions that amount to “grandstanding,” while McCoy referred to the bill during floor debate as “the re-elect Kim Reynolds plan” but said he was voting for it on “blind faith we’ll find the money” because it had “enough good things” that would assist Iowans who need the help.
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