Future Ready Iowa will ensure a highly skilled workforce

Upmeyer Column: Last week, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor and remember a man who dedicated his life to the fight for civil rights and equality. Every year around this time I am reminded of this quote from Dr. King, "The time is always right to do what is right."

I am convinced that each and every legislator that serves in Des Moines does their best to listen to their constituents back home and does what is right to move the State of Iowa forward.

While this week was shortened due to the holiday, subcommittees and committees were busy meeting and doing their work. At the beginning of session, most of our work is done in committees. We will set education funding within the first 30 days of session and I anticipate that we will also debate a handful of other issues on the floor such as water quality.

Iowa's unemployment rate of 2.9 percent is at its lowest point in 17 years. While this is fantastic news, we still have a large amount of Iowans who lack the necessary skills for 21st century careers. This has created a skills shortage across the state where employers have nearly 50,000 open jobs, but no one with the skills needed to fill them.

Right now, 58 percent of Iowa workers between the ages of 25-64 have some form of education or training beyond high school. While this is higher than the 48 percent mark we were at in 2008, we certainly have an opportunity to reach even higher.

Last year, Governor Reynolds set a goal for 70 percent of Iowa's workforce to earn a skill certification or college degree by the year 2025. In order to meet that the goal, it's estimated that about 127,000 Iowans will grab the opportunity with postsecondary training or education.

In her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds proposed the Future Ready Iowa Act to reach this goal. Future Ready Iowa will more closely connect our K-12 schools with community colleges and local businesses to create a workforce pipeline. An important aspect of this initiative is to inform kids as young as middle school-age about all of the available opportunities for when they finish high school and provide them with first-hand experiences. Collaboration between all interested parties will be key to this initiative.

In her speech, Governor Reynolds highlighted the work being done by a high school in eastern Iowa. West Delaware High School partnered with Northeast Iowa Community College and Henderson Products, a local business, to create a welding program. Since the program began, Henderson has hired almost 30 new welders in a town of 5,000 people. This type of work-based learning is exactly what Future Ready Iowa wants to encourage across the entire state.

A skilled and competitive workforce is vital to help the small and medium-sized businesses in rural Iowa grow and thrive. Tax reform helps make the state more competitive, but tax reform alone won't mean very much if we don't have the skilled workers that businesses need. These two issues go hand in hand to ensure that we have an environment that's built for growth. I'm excited about this opportunity and I look forward to working closely with the Governor, schools, and business community this session on Future Ready Iowa to better prepare our workforce for the 21st century economy!

As always, please keep in touch. As legislation moves forward, feel free to send me comments, questions or feedback that you may have regarding issues before us in the House. I can be reached at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or 515-281-3521.