Iowa's Workforce Development Success: A Model for Stability and Growth

Iowa's Workforce Development Success: A Model for Stability and Growth Main Photo

15 Sep 2023


September is National Workforce Development Month, and Iowa has plenty to celebrate. Despite the ongoing economic uncertainties at the national level, the state has maintained a remarkably stable unemployment rate of 2.7 percent in July. Sara Cook, Business Engagement Consultant at IowaWORKS, sheds light on the factors contributing to this success and the strategies employed to keep Iowa's labor force thriving.

Steady Employment in Uncertain Times

Sara Cook begins by emphasizing the remarkable stability of Iowa's unemployment rate. She notes, "Iowa's unemployment rate has held steady for several months and remains low. There are several factors impacting the unemployment rate. Still, our consistency indicates Iowa's steadiness across industries and shows that Iowans either remain employed or quickly find jobs if they find themselves out of work. That stability is important, especially in the face of the uncertainty at the national level." A consistently increasing labor force complements this stability. Cook points out, "At the same time, Iowa's overall labor force has been steadily increasing, with more than 23,000 additional people seeking and/or obtaining jobs over the past year. The fact that the unemployment rate hasn't risen means that Iowans are consistently finding work if they're entering the labor force."

Encouraging Labor Force Participation

Iowa's high labor force participation rate of 68.8 percent is commendable. Cook states, "The current rate of 68.8 is tied for fourth in the country and is six points above the national average. This is the percentage of Iowans working or actively searching for work - we know it is a high number, but we want Iowa's labor pool to be as healthy and active as possible."

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) has implemented various initiatives and programs to achieve this. Cook highlights, "IWD is always ready to assist unemployed Iowans, but we've also invested in several new initiatives, grants, and programs to help create more skilled workers." These initiatives include workforce grant opportunities, addressing barriers to work such as childcare needs, expanding registered apprenticeship programs, and establishing a one-stop shop for employers.

Additionally, integrating Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services into IWD aims to increase employment opportunities for Iowans with disabilities.

Diverse Employment Growth

Regarding employment growth, Cook explains, "Compared to last year, jobs are up 14,400 overall in Iowa. Of those gains, several sectors have stood out the most." Key sectors experiencing notable growth include education and healthcare, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, construction, trade, transportation, and utilities.

Meeting the Demands of the Labor Market

With over 65,000 job opportunities still available in Iowa, Cook elaborates on the positions currently in demand, saying, "Of the roughly 65,000 open jobs, Iowa has openings across many economic sectors, but the sectors that stand out with the most openings include healthcare, truck driving, retail, and various business services.”

IWD plays a pivotal role in connecting job seekers with these opportunities. Cook underscores their efforts, stating, "IWD serves both employers and job seekers by being the connection point between them." The agency supports apprenticeships, post-secondary education tied to high-demand jobs, and a Reemployment Case Management program, which expedites the transition to new careers. Additionally, IWD has taken a much more hands-on approach to employers by launching its new Business Engagement Division, which now deploys dedicated staff in IowaWORKS offices across the state to determine specific employer needs and connect those needs with the right solution or program.

Furthermore, the Business Engagement Division at IWD ensures employers can easily access the resources they need to meet their workforce requirements. Cook adds, "We are attempting to make it as easy as possible for employers to find the answers they need. Cook talks about IowaWORKS’ hiring events at their Mason City job center. "We have found great success in these free events, held on Tuesdays with a morning session (9 am-12 pm) and an afternoon session (1 pm-3 pm). These weekly hiring events help showcase the wide variety of positions available in our area. We share these events on our IowaWORKS Mason City Facebook page and in our job centers. We have these events open to the public for anyone interested to attend. These hiring events are often the first step to reemployment or new careers in high-demand fields,” Cook says. 

In conclusion, Iowa's impressive stability amid economic uncertainties is a testament to the state's dedication to workforce development. With a strong labor force, consistent growth across various sectors, and practical strategies for connecting job seekers and employers, Iowa is a model for achieving and sustaining a thriving workforce. This National Workforce Development Month, Iowa has every reason to celebrate its achievements in workforce development and its commitment to a prosperous future.


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