Ready for the Future

Gov. Reynolds, students, business leaders discuss initiative, business-education partnerships

Gov. Kim Reynolds sat down with a panel of Marshalltown students and business leaders to discuss the Future Ready Iowa initiative. From left: Marshalltown High School senior Brandon Avalos, MHS senior Sarah Jacobs, Marshalltown Community College non-traditional student Sam Campbell, MCC Student Body President Adiu Arou, moderator and Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend, Fisher Controls VP of Engineered Products Ross Harris, Reynolds, Principal Financial Group President and CEO Dan Houston and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

Gov. Kim Reynolds sat down with a panel of Marshalltown students and business leaders to discuss the Future Ready Iowa initiative. From left: Marshalltown High School senior Brandon Avalos, MHS senior Sarah Jacobs, Marshalltown Community College non-traditional student Sam Campbell, MCC Student Body President Adiu Arou, moderator and Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend, Fisher Controls VP of Engineered Products Ross Harris, Reynolds, Principal Financial Group President and CEO Dan Houston and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

“This is an opportunity to grow Iowa’s economy, but it’s also an opportunity to provide wealth creation, and to really help Iowans have a great career.”

The future success of students and businesses in Iowa was discussed by panelists as Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Marshalltown Friday morning. She was joined at the Iowa Valley Community College District Orpheum Theater Center by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, Principal Financial Group CEO Dan Houston and Fisher Controls Vice President of Engineered Products Ross Harris.

Also in on Friday’s discussion were Marshalltown Community College Student Body President Adiu Arou and non-traditional MCC student Sam Campbell. Marshalltown High School seniors and MCC students Sarah Jacobs and Brandon Avalos rounded out the panel.

“If you project what our workforce needs are going to be in the future, about 70 percent of the jobs that are going to be available are going to require some type of training or education beyond high school,” Gregg said, adding about 58 percent of Iowans are currently at that level of training.

Earlier this week, the Future Ready Iowa Alliance released a set of recommendations on how the initiative can be successful. The first of those was to get 70 percent of the state’s workforce to have some time of education above a high school level by 2025.

Harris said it’s been challenging to hire skilled workers in recent years.

“It’s absolutely something that we struggle with,” he said, adding it’s difficult to find candidates with a mix of “hard” math and engineering skills and “soft” skills involving communication. “Partnering with the school districts, and starting at an early age, when the kids are in high school, you find the people who have that mindset, that want to work with their hands.”

Along with MCC, the Marshalltown Regional Partnership helped bring Friday’s panel discussion to Marshalltown. Regional Partnership CEO David Barajas said it’s important to see students develop “soft” communication skills along with the skills of their profession or trade.

“We’re hearing a lot from employers in our community about the importance of soft skills,” he said. “I think soft skills is something that I’m very excited about through the Future Ready Iowa initiatives; it’s something we need to keep up front.”

The student panelists gave their opinions of the initiative’s recommendations as well, and the Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship was discussed.

“If I had the Last-Dollar Scholarship, personally, it would help me greatly,” Arou said. “Right now, I work a part-time job, and if I didn’t have to work a part-time job, I would really feel less stressed.”

Campbell said any scholarship opportunities are good for students who, like him, are over the age of 30.

Jacobs said it would be nice not to worry about finances while at school would be beneficial.

When asked about programs that provide mentoring and career counseling, the students had positive things to say.

“An internship or an apprenticeship … you’ve got an aspect of what to expect in the job field,” Campbell said.

Jacobs said she gets most of her internship information from the school counselor’s office, and would like to see opportunities be advertised more widely.

“My teacher (at MCC), he sits all of us down … he tells us ‘There’s this internship, if you guys are looking for this,'” Avalos said, adding it’s good to hear about internship opportunities.

Houston, who co-chaired the Future Ready Iowa Alliance, said jobs in the future will likely require constant re-training for employees, due to the workplace becoming more digitalized.

Going further into the subject of business-education partnerships, Harris said Marshalltown is a good example of a successful alliance.

“First and foremost, when partnering with the schools … it’s the staff and administration that recognizes it,” he said. “From a business perspective, it’s truly an investment, an investment that you’re making may not pay off in a year or two years or three years … it takes time.”

Reynolds said panel discussions will continue throughout the state going forward.

“We’ll do the listening tour, we’ll take a look at legislation, we’ll put a timeline together, we’ll put metrics in place, benchmark,” she said. “Then, we will do everything we can to really build out the existing programs that are out there.”

The Future Ready Iowa initiative began under former Gov. Terry Branstad, and is now being led by the Reynolds administration. It was funded by a National Governors Association grant.

“We want to make sure we’re on the right track, and this is a work in progress, this is not something that’s set in stone,” Reynolds said. “This is the number one priority of our administration, and it has to be.”

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com