By Georgia Van Gundy | Guest Column

As we reflect on state workforce trends and the Iowa Business Council’s (IBC) economic outlook for the year, it’s fair to say while the labor shortage continues to be a priority, the state is in a position of strength.

The Iowa Business Council releases a quarterly economic survey to provide an overall outlook on our economy going into the next six months. The survey from July 1 showed IBC members remain optimistic about the overall economy with about 70 percent of IBC members anticipating higher sales and the majority expecting employment to increase.

For the first time, the survey asked members what potential major disruptors their industry could face in the upcoming year. Respondents noted difficult trade negotiations have exacerbated market uncertainty and have made it problematic to create projections for the future. We also heard from a quarter of respondents that artificial intelligence will be part of overall strategy as it pertains to robotics solving some workforce shortages and increasing productivity. A separate 15 percent noted weather could pose a problem in agricultural sectors, linking Iowa’s historical ag economy with long-range market outcomes. Overall, businesses desire a stable political and economic environment that allows more growth and expansion.

As it pertains to workforce, over 75 percent of our members have consistently faced obstacles in filling positions related to information technology, health care professionals and engineers. We believe that students need multiple hands-on experiences early in their academic career to adequately assess their skills and find their passion. Through the Business Education Alliance, a stakeholder group of IBC members and K-20 educational institutions, we are creating a Pathway to Success playbook for school districts, business leaders, and communities to follow students through their academic careers and link their interests with work-based learning and exposure to the incredible career trajectories in Iowa.

Learning from successful programs like Iowa BIG that serves Linn Mar, Cedar Rapids and Marion community school districts, we hope to spread the expertise, best practices and proven solutions across the state so that from Solon to Sioux City, there will be equal opportunity for students – rural, suburban and urban.

Iowa Business Council members continue to engage with Future Ready Iowa. Specifically, we advocated for the passage of funding for the Employer Innovation Fund and the Last Dollar Scholarship. While the Last Dollar Scholarship provides students with funds to upskill, the Employer Innovation Fund matches public and private dollars to address workforce barriers.

Also, most of our members provided projects for the launch of Future Ready Iowa’s Work-Based Learning Portal, which provides real business projects for students to complete throughout the year from the classroom.

In addition to our policy and research work, the Iowa Business Council has been traveling the state to hear community-specific challenges and solutions to workforce shortages, attracting and retaining more people in Iowa and creating welcoming communities. Every town is facing similar issues, many are in different stages of development, but we are heartened to see unique answers to some of their most pressing problems.

For example, Grow Cedar Valley leaders are working on regional collaboration to identify workforce initiatives that celebrate what it’s like to live, work and play there and address ways to promote full inclusion in business. In our visit with ICR Iowa, we learned about unique programming to embolden workforce retainment through their Wingman program to better integrate new members of the community. They also shared their best practices on recruiting workforce diversity and how they work with the University of Iowa to retain students.

We have much work ahead of us and it will take communities large and small to move the needle. As we continue to travel the state and listen to Iowans’ needs this fall, we will share information with local businesses about state resources to address workforce challenges and best practices so that communities can learn from one another. At the end of the year, the Iowa Business Council wraps common themes into our overall policy advocacy on a statewide level. It’s our goal to strategically share Iowa’s story to Iowans and non-residents to empower our state for continued growth and prosperity.

Georgia Van Gundy in the executive director of the Iowa Business Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose 23 members are the chief decision makers of major Iowa employers.