Our Town Peosta: A college course is letting workers work while earning a degree

“Earn and Learn” is paying workers to go to college which pays off for workers, businesses, and the community
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 6:33 PM CDT
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PEOSTA, Iowa (KCRG) - The name says it all: earn to learn.

“It’s a great workplace solution,” explained Northeast Iowa Community College vice president of Business and Community Solutions, Dr. Wendy Mihn-Herold.

NICC has coordinated the “Earn to Learn” program with local businesses to let students obtain part or full-time work in their career path while they finish their college training program.

Companies include Dubuque’s Progressive Processing.

It’s where Rich Barry is literally earning while learning.

“Instead of me having to work eight to 10 hours here and going to school, I come here and work about half a day, whatever I’m comfortable with, as long as I get my eight hours in a day,” he explained.

Barry has worked at this plant for three years.

“It’s been a huge part of our success here,” said Progressive Processing plant manager Joe Muzik.

“I’d say finding talented and skilled employees, in general, has been difficult, but particularly within the trades.”

NICC in Peosta’s Earn and Learn Business Sponsorship program lets workers keep their jobs while earning a degree.

They’re basically paid to improve themselves.

“So it’s a win-win for the student, and a win-win for the business, and most important, a win-win for the community to upscale our community so our businesses can expand and grow,” said Dr. Mihn-Herold.

And that’s the plan at the Dubuque Progressive Processing plant.

Right now, its 475 employees make Compleats Meals and Bacon Bits pouches, plus its three shifts produce about 40% of the SPAM production in America.

And the Earn and Learn program fits into its plans to produce a better workforce.

“To have the ability to grow talent within your own organization, you need the means outside your facility to be able to grow those skills so NICC provides that,” said Muzik.

For workers like Rich Barry, it grows his career, from line production, to maintenance, to perhaps a supervisor’s job someday.

“By the time I’m done with this, not only am I going to have a two-year degree, an Associate’s Degree, but I’m going to have five years experience. Tell me where I cannot go with that? I can go anywhere I want.”

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