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As need grows, leaders look for ways to increase wages in Clarke County

One of the Governor’s main talking points this session has been the need for schools to have adequate training programs to ready graduates for the workforce. This is especially relevant in Osceola and the surrounding areas, as Clarke County is home to several industries requiring specialized skills. It’s one of a growing number of options residents have for increasing their income potential, and they couldn’t come soon enough. With costs on the rise, more residents are struggling to afford the basics.

Future Ready Iowa Alliance

Tuesday, Oct. 17, Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg announced the results of a year-long study on Iowa workforce development. Future Ready Iowa Alliance goals call for 70 percent of state residents to have post secondary degrees or certification by 2025. The study looked at the open positions needing to be filled and what it would take to train people living here to fill them.

“My administration is working on creating opportunities,” said Gov. Reynolds in a press release Tuesday. “These recommendations are about the opportunity for 127,700 additional Iowans to have great careers and a bigger paycheck.

“An entry-level STEM job pays an average $42,000 a year,” she continued. “A non-STEM job starts at an average $27,000. That’s real money to fund vacations, cars and gadgets for young graduates. For older graduates, that’s a down payment on a home, saving for college for their kids and financial freedom from more debt and worry.”

Recommendations included the creation of Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship for people seeking a certificate or associate’s degree from an Iowa school in an area of high demand. The Future Ready Iowa Grant is for those students working toward a bachelor’s degree who already have more than half of the credits they need.

Other recommendations included expanding support for new and returning students - especially minority and low-income individuals - increasing apprenticeship programs in urban and rural areas, improved collaborations between business- and employee-centric organizations and the introduction of early education initiatives which apparently would point students toward careers in areas of need.

“This will be an all-out effort with employers, local schools, chambers, economic developers and nonprofits dedicating their money, time and energy to improving careers and financial stability for Iowans,” Lt. Gov. Gregg said in the release.

In addition, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta appointed Gov. Reynolds to the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion early this month, which will boost opportunities here and elsewhere in rural America.

“As of today, we currently have 833 registered apprenticeship programs, including 125 new programs in 2017 alone, and 8,817 active registered apprentices,” she said in a press release. “I look forward to working with this very accomplished group of individuals to continue to expand apprenticeship programs across Iowa and the rest of the country to make sure our future workforce is trained for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Existing local opportunities for adults

For people in need of better jobs and higher incomes right now, there are local initiatives available. Staying in touch with the Adult Education department at the local college is essential to staying on top of these possibilities.

For instance, the Osceola branch of Southwestern Community College (SWCC) recently announced a free course for adult learners, Applied Math Training: Math Skills for Employment, which will run 2 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, Nov. 6 through Dec. 7.

Students who complete the class will receive a certificate and secure interviews and pre-interview tours at sponsors Altec, Plum Building Supply and Salford.

Pre-registration is required by Friday, Nov. 1, and can be accessed online at https://form.jotform.com/SWCC-CE/applied-math-training or by calling 641-342-3531.

PSEO and Career Academies

High school students have additional opportunities to work toward college credits and certification through Senior Year Plus, an Iowa-specific program combining advanced academics and skill-based training resulting in college credits, and for students, an associate’s degree upon high school graduation.

PSEO classes are especially popular, as they allow juniors and seniors – as well as younger students who’ve been identified as gifted – the chance to take college classes for free. There are some stipulations. A comparable class cannot be offered by the high school, for example.

Career Academies combine two years of instruction with hands-on learning to prepare students for a role in the workforce. Clarke High School has the framework in place for different types of academies: industrial, healthcare, culinary.

The Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC) has maximized the impact of these programs by creating relevant advisory boards too, bringing together key roles in the workforce and in education to create programs tailored to readying students for the workplace.

“The Clarke Community Industrial Technology Advisory Board was started by Bill Trickey [executive director of the CCDC] in an attempt to create a platform for local companies to be a voice in the direction of what was happening at Clarke High School,” said Industrial Arts teacher and board member Dave Lyden. “We meet once a month at various locations to not only discuss areas of concern for the school but also to tour the many facilities in Osceola that provide opportunities for future student employment.

“Some of the areas that have been identified as needs have been such things as measuring, soft skills, attendance, job specific skills and just an overall awareness that skilled workers are needed and in demand.”

This has helped the program acquire many new pieces of equipment – a new CNC Plasma table, computers for the CAD area and 3D printers. The board aided in Altec’s donation of 10 new Lincoln welders to the school last month.

“Our advisory board has had a huge impact on helping us develop curriculum and programming and in helping identify and secure the resources necessary to truly provide our students with real-world learning experiences,” said Clarke Curriculum Director Jean Bahls. “We are so lucky to have such strong support from the industry in our area and we look forward to continuing our collaboration this year.”

A healthcare advisory board has been discussed to help bring more focus to jobs at local employers, such as Clarke County Hospital and Southern Hills Specialty Care, both of which participated in the recent job fair.

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