Developing Workforce Education for a Dynamic Economy

Postsecondary & Workforce

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The following guest post is adapted from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ remarks at the 2021 Virtual Forum on Education Policy, where she accepted the gavel as the new Education Commission of the States Chair. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

In all my years as an elected official, I don’t believe there’s ever been a more crucial time to focus on education policy than right now. In light of the pandemic, a lot has been revealed about education – both challenges and opportunities alike.

This has been a time of tremendous upheaval in schools around the country. While Iowa students benefitted from a safe and responsible return to in-person learning last year, the impact of the pandemic was certainly felt in our state too. However, along with the challenges came impressive innovation, which gives us a good deal of hope in Iowa. This spirit of innovation is crucial as we move forward and continue serving students.

As Chair, I’m looking forward to collaborating with education policy leaders to ensure that schools are preparing students for life and work beyond the classroom.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has drastically worsened America’s workforce shortage. Like many other states, business owners in Iowa are feeling the effects of employee shortages. Every business owner I’ve talked to — small, medium and large — say they’re having trouble finding employees for the jobs they need to fill.

There are a variety of important ways to address workforce issues, but I can’t think of a more important long-term fix than to successfully educate our students. By supporting accessible workforce education that prepares students for life after high school graduation, policymakers are making a commitment to long-term student success.

With that in mind, below are a few questions Iowa is using as a guide for workforce development:

  • Are we teaching students practical, in-demand skills they can use to find a well-paying career after graduation?
  • How can policymakers close the gap between education and workforce development by facilitating direct engagement between businesses and the future workforce?
  • How can we promote STEM education and work-based learning for students of all ages?
  • What opportunities are there to combine work and school in a way that prepares young people for a dynamic economy?

In Iowa, we’re tackling these issues in innovative ways like facilitating Registered Apprenticeship Programs that allow high school students to learn valuable skills while earning a paycheck. Part of the comprehensive workforce bill I’ve proposed to the Iowa Legislature this year includes a first-in-the-nation Teacher Registered Apprenticeship Program that offers a pathway for current high school students. Starting their junior year, students can work toward earning an associate degree and a paraeducator certificate tuition-free by graduation, while at the same time earning $12 an hour working in area schools. Then, while working as a paraeducator, they can continue with the program, earning a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. Through programs like this, schools can effectively grow their own workforce.

Given the dramatic changes in America’s economy, policymakers have the opportunity to address workforce needs by creating access and multiple pathways to workforce education so that employers have access to a qualified and prepared workforce. Focusing efforts on workforce development will be a truly invaluable service to our students.

I look forward to collaborating with policymakers across the nation to address our states’ most pressing education issues and to ensure our students have lasting success.

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