Iowa needs more workers to fill ‘skills gap’
Jefferson County Supervisor Becky Schmitz shared Monday about a United Way database, 2-1-1, available for anyone to access free and confidential at anytime, online at FirstCallForHelpIowa.org or by calling 211.
Schmitz distributed a flier with the phone numbers and website, offering assistance in several categories. Anyone can call or visit the website to find community resources, from basic human needs — food, clothing and shelter — to physical and mental health clinics, child care, employment support, assistance for older people or people with disabilities, support for children and families and emergency/crisis assistance.
United Way has organized an extensive database and trained professionals will listen to callers’ situations and can view more than 840 agencies and resources and find the best solution possible to fill a need. The same database is available on the website. In addition to dialing 211, phone numbers include 319-739-4211 and 866-469-2211.
Each Jefferson County supervisor serves on several regional committees and reports to the board of supervisors during regular Monday meetings.
Schmitz also reported about statistics from the Decategorization Board of Jefferson, Keokuk, Iowa and Washington Counties.
“Juvenile offenses increased in 2012, which I want to find out more about,” she said. “One the other hand, reports of child abuse to the Department of Human Services were down.”
Supervisor Lee Dimmitt said he and Tracy Vance, executive director of Fairfield Economic Development Association, attended a regional meeting about manufacturers and education partnering with Indian Hills Community College and toured Agri-Industrial Plastics Co.
Dimmitt and Vance both stressed the need to inform the community, high school students and parents, about the opportunities available through Career Academy and two-year associate degree programs at community colleges for learning skills that can land high paying jobs.
“Forecasts show Iowa will have 7,000 fewer workers than needed in the skilled labor force by 2018,” said Vance. “We have a skills gap and students need to understand that not everyone needs a four-year college degree to have a good career.”
Vance said the state, and the region, want to entice new business, but Iowa is getting a reputation of not having the skilled workforce needed. The perception is the state is all agricultural.
“So much is available at two-year programs,” said Dimmitt. “We need to do a better job of letting students know about the opportunities. And the county is doing a big push right now about bringing kids back home to work after they’ve gone off to college. But there’s a perception there that hometowns can’t provide careers.
“Most of the region’s schools have Career Academies and students can get welder training in high school and become certified to go to work out of high school earning in the $20 per hour range,” said Dimmitt. “Community colleges provide an important step into skilled careers. We need to let the community know to take advantage of such programs.”
Supervisor Dick Reed said the Bonnifield Log House is in need of a roof and Maasdam Barns is looking to host more functions, such as reunions or gatherings.
Reed reported the South Iowa Development of Conservation Authority, based in Centerville, has done seven or eight projects in Jefferson County.
“Those projects are replacing bridges with dams to pond water and improve the water quality for conservation measures,” said Reed. “It’s not been funded the last few years, but it still has $550,000 that is already obligated to projects and $92,000 in unobligated funds. I think we need to look to do more projects so we use the funding. If we don’t use the money, the government could see we didn’t use it all and not provide future funding.”
Reed said the Southeast Iowa Multi-County Solid Waste Agency landfill in Richland is researching purchasing additional land.
“We’d probably not use the land for 40 to 60 years for landfill purposes, but we’re looking ahead,” he said. “We walked the land with a forester and discussed how to take care of the land after purchase and until it’s needed.”
Audience member Julie Fisk, identified herself as a one-year Fairfield resident, working for a nonprofit, Growing Hope Foundation.
“The foundation is in land management and land stewardship and accepts bequests of farmland,” she said.
“At the Sept. 30 supervisors meeting, I read in the newspaper the board awarded county-owned farmland to the highest bidder,” said Fisk. “I can agree you are looking out for the taxpayers in accepting the highest bid, but from a land stewardship standpoint, I don’t know if the highest bid is the best determination.
“I don’t know the bidder who was awarded [the three-year lease] and I don’t know what practices the former farmer who worked the land used. I was glad to hear the renter had requested adding a clause about taking care of the soil.
“If the county was using our foundation to manage the farmland, we would make sure the farmer used conservation tillage soil preparation,” said Fisk. “We have a 7 percent management fee and a portion is passed on to the nonprofit.”