Guest Columnist

Doing more to close the skills gap

First year student Austin Harder, of Muscatine, Iowa, looks around a job site in the virtual world at the grand opening for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa Training Facility, 1482 Hawkeye Dr., in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Oct. 10, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
First year student Austin Harder, of Muscatine, Iowa, looks around a job site in the virtual world at the grand opening for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa Training Facility, 1482 Hawkeye Dr., in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Oct. 10, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

There’s a phrase that’s being tossed around quite a bit by politicians, business executives and community leaders — everyone is talking about a “skilled worker shortage.”

What does that mean?

In Iowa alone, more than 100,000 craft professionals will be needed by 2021. Baby Boomers have led successful careers in the industry and are beginning to look toward retirement. At the same time, schools have cut back on their industrial technology classes and many high school students today are not exposed to what a future in the trades looks like for them.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa (ABC) is working to correct this problem. We trained more than 1,400 apprentices last year as the largest apprenticeship training organization in the state of Iowa. Our students are taught proper safety courses and specific skills in the areas of electrical, plumbing, HVAC, sheet metal, millwright, insulation, laborer and electronic systems technicians.

In an effort to expose a younger generation to the construction industry, we also rolled out our Career Exploration Trailer last year. The trailer, which is equipped with virtual reality, gives students a real life glimpse at their future. The trailer travels to schools, job fairs and apprenticeship events across the state.

Even with innovative solutions, skilled craft positions remain the hardest jobs to fill in the United States.

It’s important that students know college may not be the answer for everyone. Rising education costs are leaving students starting at the bottom of the workforce, staring at years of debt in front of them.

It’s important that adults who feel stuck in a job are empowered to gain a new skill, keep up with their busy home and family life, and set their course for a successful career.

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ABC’s program practices the earn-while-you-learn philosophy. Apprentices can work full-time during the day and attend class one evening a week. They are able to graduate with little to no debt and take their licensing exams once they have finished their requirements.

ABC of Iowa has recently expanded our training centers located in Grimes, Hiawatha and Davenport, and we offer 19 remote sites throughout the state.

Nov. 12th — 18th is National Apprenticeship Week. This is a time when leaders across the country will be highlighting the benefits of apprenticeships and the need for more students to join the trades.

During this week, reach out to a young person you know who likes to work with their hands or who is looking for options after high school. Talk to a friend who has been struggling with their current job and might be looking for a new path. We can all do more to close the skilled worker shortage in our state.

You can find more information about ABC of Iowa at abciowa.org.

• Ginny Shindelar is vice president of education and training with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa.

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