Guest Columnist

Growth requires Iowa to diversify, recruit

Temporary signage for Collins Aerospace, a unit of United Technologies Corp., at the former Rockwell Collins building 179 in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Temporary signage for Collins Aerospace, a unit of United Technologies Corp., at the former Rockwell Collins building 179 in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The recent merger of Rockwell Collins and UTC Aerospace Systems created a singular company with a collective near-century of groundbreaking innovations. Today, our company collaborates with customers around the globe to solve the toughest challenges in aerospace and defense. But these aren’t the only challenges we’re committed to solving.

Like nearly all Iowa businesses, Collins Aerospace must increase our pipeline of skilled workers in order to meet future business demands. This assertion is supported by the latest data from the Iowa Business Council’s annual competitive dashboard that examines in-depth statistics related to five key indicators: economic growth, education and workforce, governance, health and wellness, and demographics and diversity.

I am honored to be part of the Council, which has given me the opportunity to review this information in depth and engage with my colleagues to develop targeted solutions to some of these pressing challenges.

The message is both clear and urgent: In order for Iowa to remain economically competitive, it is imperative that we attract a skilled, diverse workforce to fill quality jobs across the state. The reality is that without more workers, Iowa’s continued economic growth is limited, and companies may look elsewhere to build or expand their businesses. In addition, without a unified and concerted statewide effort in addressing these issues, Iowa will fail to reach its full potential.

Here at Collins Aerospace, we’re leaning on our strong history as a thought leader in our industry to execute creative initiatives intended to attract new workers and develop our existing workforce.

For example, even years before children are ready to enter the workforce, we work with nonprofit organizations to expose them to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and encourage students to explore these professions as they earn their educations and consider their futures.

During the 2019 installment of our annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” we opened our Cedar Rapids facilities to more than 100 area junior high-aged girls who participated in activities such as building a prosthetic arm, understanding circuits, flying a drone and learning how to defend a system from cyberattacks. Especially important in historically male-dominated industries, this kind of outreach is critical because we must diversify the workforce. We know that our customers benefit when employees from various backgrounds can lend their unique perspectives and insights to provide the most innovative products and services for our customers.

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To attract college students, we’ve implemented robust internship and co-op programs that have helped hundreds of students transition to full-time employees. In 2018, Collins Aerospace hosted 475 students at our facilities in Iowa and brought more than 300 of them into our permanent workforce.

Our group of student professionals includes emerging leaders like Kwizera Imani, a senior studying aerospace engineering at Iowa State University. Recently Imani interned in our commercial division, writing user guides for new systems in aircraft cockpits. This experience motivated Imani to return to Collins after graduation this spring, so he can broaden his engineering expertise and “provide a path for underrepresented communities to find careers.”

These internships are valuable not just because they expose students to the vast array of opportunities available at Collins Aerospace like designing systems for spacecraft, business jets, airports, helicopters, commercial and military aviation, but they also allow prospective workers to experience the quality of life available in the Cedar Rapids area. Our community has invested in trails and bike lanes to increase mobility options and recreational opportunities. And each year, new venues and experiences seem to multiply. Case in point, the NewBo City Market, Market After Dark, Restaurant Week, Craft Beer Week and more are all popular events and attractions that are easily accessible from newly constructed downtown living options.

The Iowa Business Council is committed to taking best practices and helping replicate them around the state. That is why all Iowa Business Council members have pledged to provide 30,000 internships, externships, and apprenticeships by 2025. We are also convening a group of thought leaders from both the public and private sectors to identify potential initiatives to attract and retain people to our state. If we do not grow and diversify our population, the state’s economic growth will suffer.

At Collins Aerospace, we are dedicated to our community, our state and our employees. As we continue to explore new ways to grow and diversify our workforce, I ask my corporate peers and all Iowans to join us in this effort. Together, we can generate a flourishing and diverse population of citizens who will become the lifeblood of our business community, the energy behind new cultural offerings and the drivers for sustained economic growth.

• Phil Jasper is president of Mission Systems for Collins Aerospace. The Lamont native is one of the 23 chief executives that comprise the Iowa Business Council.

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