Region will need 12,000 workers over next three years

By Pat Shaver

Local employers say the region will need about 12,000 new and replacement workers over the next three years, and about 75 percent of those jobs require education beyond high school, according to a recently released study.

The results of the Skills 2014 report were unveiled last week by Kirkwood Community College, Priority One and the Iowa City Area Development Group. The study looked at workforce assets and areas of challenge to future economic strength and business growth in Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties. The study was commissioned by ACT.

The study is useful to employers but also used by Kirkwood to adjust programs and training, said Kirkwood Vice President of Continuing Education and Training Services Kim Johnson.

The use of the report really I believe is more global in nature. (Businesses) understand how you fit in the regional workforce equation,” Ms. Johnson said.

The study found several emerging themes. Jobs in the area require post-secondary education. An employee’s education and credentials remains a high priority for businesses in the region.

Another finding showed that companies in the area have an optimistic outlook for gaining new and replacement workers, about 11,846 people. Those jobs are primarily in manufacturing, health care, information solutions, transportation/logistics and education.

The report also found that work-based learning experiences or internships are down slightly in the area, but that 87 percent of employers who had interns were pleased, Ms. Johnson said.

A concern that businesses noted in the survey was about the missing basic, soft and occupational skills among applicants.

“From this, there are a couple of things employers can take away. They get a broader understanding of workforce in the region,” Ms. Johnson said. “The second thing for employers to know is how important the collaboration among regional partners can be.”

“There will be future opportunities for employers to be engaged in the workforce planning process,” she said.

Despite the 2008 flood and a rough economy, Ms. Johnson said the report shows a steady recovery.

“One thing that came out of it that further cemented is that we are seeing some positive economic recovery,” Ms. Johnson said.

Priority One President Dee Baird said in a news release that one recommendation in the report is for continued employer commitment to internships and job shadowing.

“We believe continued investment in education and workforce systems that support work-based learning experiences will help our community attract and retain the next generation worker, thus building a pipeline of qualified workers for our region,” she said.

Local economic leaders made a few recommendations as a result of the study.

One suggestion is to promote, reinforce and gain endorsement from regional employers to require or recommend the Iowa National Career Readiness Certificate and workforce credentialing systems.

Officials hope more employers will commit to internships and job shadowing.

The next step is to develop a regional workforce plan that will support workforce development programs and training.

Another goal is to leverage local assets to attract, retain and grow businesses.

The research involved extensive surveys of area employers in 12 industry sectors. Employers were selected to represent a range of size, sector and location. A total of 132 employers completed the workforce needs survey and 272 completed the training and workforce climate survey.

The Strategic Skills Alignment report was added this year. The purpose of the report is to support the regional workforce and economic development planning process. The report provides a summary of the current and projected industry and occupation employment mix for the region as well as skills required for in-demand occupations and training capacity of the region to meet current and prospective employer needs.