Employers Seeking Workers With Experience, Skills

By George C. Ford, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A survey released Thursday shows regional employers are expected to hire almost 12,000 new and replacement workers over the next four years and they will be looking for experienced and skilled applicants.

Also released Thursday was a study commissioned by ACT Inc. that examined whether workplace skills are strategically aligned with current and future employer requirements.

Skills 2014 was commissioned by Kirkwood Community College, Priority One in Cedar Rapids, the Iowa City Area Development Group and other economic development organizations. It is the fourth survey of employers in Linn, Johnson, Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Jones and Washington counties conducted since 2000.

Kim Johnson, Kirkwood vice president of continuing education and training services, said the employers responding to the survey represented a range of company size, industry sector and geographic location. A total of 132 employers completed an employer work force needs survey and 272 participated in a training and work force climate survey.

"Sixty-six percent of the projected new and replacement workers will require education beyond a high school diploma, which is consistent with national survey data," Johnson said. "For projected new positions in the region, 74 percent will require a post-secondary education.

"The recession is accelerating the shift to jobs that require post-secondary education."

Although showing some improvement from the Skills 2010 survey, regional employers remain concerned about the missing basic, soft andoccupational skills among job applicants. The highest area of concern is the occupational or technical skills of job applicants.

Johnson noted that employers are looking for experienced workers throughout their hiring process, including entry-level positions. She said internships and job shadowing experience help inform high school and college students about career opportunities in the region.

Johnson said the percentage of employers offering internships has declined since the Skills 2010 survey, a trend that could possibly be attributed to the financial impact of the recession.

Johnson said 79 percent of the employers responding to the Skills 2014 survey said they are willing to invest in additional training for their employees.

Looking ahead, Johnson said the Skills 2014 study makes four recommendations:

* Continue to promote, reinforce and gain endorsement from regional employers to require or recommend the Iowa National Career Readiness Certificate as well as other work force credentialing systems.

*Engage employers in a commitment to internships and job shadowing. Continue to invest and provide incentives for education and work force systems that support employee links to high quality work-based learning experiences.

* Develop and implement a regional work force development plan that supports work force development programs and training that result in skill attainment and credentials aligned with current and future talents and skills needed by regional employers.

*Leverage regional assets to attract, retain and grow more businesses and invest in human capital development.

The 76-page Strategic Skills Alignment study found that the seven-county Kirkwood District has above average training capacity for many health care occupations, but there is a shortage of training capacity for computer-related occupations.

"Computer-related occupations are key to the information technology sector, a target cluster of Iowa City Area Development Group," the report noted. "In addition, computer-related occupations account for five of the top 15 demand occupations in the five-cluster target aggregate."

The ACT study projected employment growth in biotechnology, educational services, information technologies and energy-related businesses. It also projected a decline in the number of advanced manufacturing jobs.

Johnson said the need for additional computer-related training capacity likely will be one of the components of the final report of a group that will examine the Skills 2014 and ACT studies and make recommendations to address shortfalls and concerns.

Priority One President Dee Baird, who has been involved with all four Skills surveys, said the Skills 2014 report shows employers solutions and ways to work together to make the area work force better.

"The report continues to demonstrate that the world of work is more sophisticated than it was 10 years ago," Baird said. "Education and training are important, but we're seeing that a person's ability to contribute to the workplace through strong social skills is equally important."

Joe Raso, president of the I0wa City Area Development Group, said his organization and Priority One already have begun to address work force development recommendations in the Skills 2014 report.

"Work force development is an ongoing process and the Skills 2014 report helps reinforce the significance of what we've been doing," Raso said at a Kirkwood news conference where the report was released. "Certainly, there are new approaches to consider, but past programs such as Iowa's National Career Readiness Certificate and alumni engagement were derived from previous Skills reports and both will continue to address work force needs in this region."
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