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2017 November 29 - 07:55 am

Iowa Officials Hope To Increase Training In Skilled Trades

Vocational Programs Grow as ‘Middle Skills’ Jobs Create Skills Gap


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Zachary Hageman moves through the almostdone luxury apartments near downtown Des Moines and points to the studs and wiring, the drywall and cabinets.

The 18-year-old is part of the cleanup crew, an entry-level position that’s part of a new school program designed to give hands-on experience to high school students and recent graduates.

Once unsure of his future, the recent graduate now plans to become an electrician. It’s an indemand job. In Iowa, experienced electricians average $30 an hour, or more than $62,000 a year, according to the Iowa Wage Report 2016. That’s more than the state’s average wage of $20.12 an hour.

“I know what I want to be doing,” Hageman said. In construction, at the end of the day, “you’ve done something that you can be proud of.”

State and industry leaders want more teens to follow Hageman’s lead into so-called “middle skills” jobs — those requiring additional training beyond high school but less than a four-year college degree.

As Iowa students head back to school, one of the hottest focuses is an effort to expand and elevate vocational and technical training in high school.

More than half of all Iowa jobs are for middle-skilled workers, but only one-third of Iowa workers are prepared to fill those positions, leaving a skills gap that spans multiple industries, according to a 2015 Iowa Workforce Development report.

Championed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state’s Future Ready Iowa initiative set a goal to have 70 percent of Iowa’s labor force earn training beyond high school by 2025. Currently, 58 percent of the state’s workforce, defined as ages 25 to 64, meets that benchmark.

More K-12 schools and Iowa companies are partnering to add and expand skilled-trades programs; from creating the Skilled Trades Academy in Des Moines to a pre-apprenticeship program in Boone that can reduce the amount of time it takes a student to complete a traditional apprenticeship.

“The ability to earn a highquality living with little debt — when you can give that hope to students and families, it inspires them to be engaged in their learning,” said Aiddy Phomvisay, director of Central Campus in Des Moines.

Particularly in construction trades — where projected retirements are compounding hiring demands — businesses, industry associations and trade unions are working with educators to attract more students.

“We see help wanted signs out there all the time,” said Dan Knoup, executive officer of the Greater Des Moines Home Builders Association. “The jobs are out there. The careers are available.”

To meet the growing demand, Des Moines Public Schools created a new three-year Skilled Trades Academy at Central Campus.

The school, which once housed the district’s Technical High School, already had classes in welding, painting and drywall, and homebuilding. It is adding HVAC and plumbing classes this school year, and it plans to add electrical the following school year.

“We have individual welding booths. We have state-of-the-art ventilation systems, all the capabilities that they have with an apprentice shop,” Phomvisay said.

In addition, Des Moines schools spent more than $6 million renovating classrooms, creating space to grow its existing skilledtrades program from about 90 to 300 students in three years. Students from 26 nearby districts as well as Des Moines high schools may enroll in Central Campus classes.

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