Education means everything to Democratic U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack.
“Education was my way out. I mean, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for education. I am a huge proponent of this concept because I’ve taught for 24 years and my wife taught for over 30 years,” Loebsack said during an education roundtable April 3 at the Southwestern Community College Center in Osceola. “We need to protect and expand the middle class. We need to get folks who are not in the middle class into the middle class, if they’re willing to take advantage of the opportunity and work hard and pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”
With the government’s current sequestration and funding getting slashed, Loebsack said the public will never see him vote against various types of educational programs.
The congressman was at the SWCC center to discuss a bill he is reintroducing, and also to meet with many SWCC officials for the first time.
This is Loebsack’s seventh year in Congress. However, since the state’s Congressional districts were recently redistricted, Loebsack picked up Clarke County in his district when he was re-elected in November.
Loebsack’s support includes community colleges.
“Community colleges, I believe, are the principal intersection between education and workforce development,” Loebsack said. “Not the only thing, but they’re the principal, I think, at least in Iowa.”
Loebsack is reintroducing the bipartisan-supported Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which has previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously.
The SECTORS Act will support “sector” or “industry partnerships,” which allow businesses, unions, educators and the public workforce development system to develop and implement plans that help workers train for and advance in high-demand and emerging industries.
“Really, what it’s all about is providing limited funds at the federal level to communities who want to think strategically about an industry or cluster of industries.” Loebsack said. “How to move themselves forward, how to find, train, match up folks who have the proper skills, for those industries that they identify strategically as industries they want to save or create or expand in the future.”
SWCC President Dr. Barb Crittenden said she wondered if the funds from the SECTORS bill would be used more for planning or training.
Loebsack said the funds would be used more for planning.
“For communities thinking strategically about how they want to move forward, more than anything else, and bring the relevance stakeholders together,” he said.
Clarke County has an unemployment rate of 7 percent, and Loebsack said he knows there’s a growing problem with companies needing to hire people, but not enough people have the proper training or skills.
“But, it’s about getting the country back on its feet,” Loebsack said. “It’s about getting people back to work.”
Bill Trickey, executive director of Clarke Community Development Corporation, said he recently did a career day at the high school and talked to students.
“I told the young people … because we don’t know what the workplace is going to require tomorrow, let alone five or 10 years from now, is that they need to demonstrate that they are comfortable with technology. That they are capable of learning, and that they’re OK with change,” he said. “And, if they have those three attributes, then they’ll be able to adjust to whatever the workplace bring us.”
Trickey added, he thinks community colleges play a huge role with directing students toward future goals and careers.
Dr. Matt Thompson, SWCC dean of student services and director of institutional advancement, discussed SWCC’s welding program with Loebsack. He said there were five students the first year of the program. Now, it has grown to 22 students.
Thompson said there are currently 25 applications for the fall.
“It’s just getting people in the mindset of these are the jobs that are out there,” he said.