The key to ending Iowa's workforce shortage

The key to ending Iowa's workforce shortage

The key to ending Iowa's workforce shortage relies on expanding talent and skills

The Gazette, Mary Andringa

July 17, 2019

Editor’s note: Iowans’ Ideas is a guest column featuring the views of different Iowans each edition of The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas magazine.

In 1948, my father, Gary Vermeer, founded an equipment manufacturing company located on our family farm in Pella.

A farmer first, he also was an innovator and always looking for a better way to get his work done on the farm. The demand for his equipment inventions grew and ultimately led to the founding of Vermeer.

More than 70 years later, Vermeer headquarters still proudly sits on the rolling fields of Iowa farmland. If we as a company and as a state wish for our economy to keep growing, our communities to be vibrant and our quality of life to be rich, we must be diligent about retaining, attracting and diversifying talent.

As chairwoman of the Iowa Business Council, a group of 23 chief decision-makers from some of Iowa’s largest companies, it’s clear the war for talent is not unique to one industry or company. All our members are facing the workforce shortage — it has permeated Iowa’s small towns and large metros and affected industries from manufacturing to retail, from agribusiness to health care.

To address some of our talent gaps, the IBC is working on a statewide, systematic approach to actively engage students from a young age to expose them to work-based learning and open their eyes to the career possibilities across the state.

At Vermeer, we engage with students in their early years to drive awareness to the evolving and growing opportunities in manufacturing. By offering activities and tours in our workplace as well as activating team members to volunteer with local students in the classroom, we work hard to stay connected throughout a student’s development.

We know students are only one part of the equation, and so we also work to educate and engage teachers. By offering paid internships to local teachers and school faculty, we are attracting influential voices in the lives of our future workforce.

Influences at home are just as important as those in school. Raising awareness of opportunities both in manufacturing and in skilled roles are important at the parent level.

We also offer multiple on-site, work-based learning opportunities that include hosting high school students for a week in the winter, giving students the opportunity to shadow and understand what roles look like across manufacturing. In the summer, we create an internship experience that connects participants with important, real-life work and a network of growing professionals.

We partnered with other local businesses and the Pella Community School District to create a registered apprenticeship program that offers high school students the ability to learn a skilled trade while still enrolled in high school, get paid and prepare for employment following graduation.

Together with the Pella Career Academy and fellow businesses that participated in the program, we created a playbook for other businesses to access and understand the process and implement it in their school district. The more ways businesses and educational systems can partner together, the greater potential for strong economic growth.

The Iowa Business Council also is working on ways we can keep our college graduates in state, attract more individuals to our state and diversify our population. We’ve gathered a group of Iowans to understand what it will take for communities to grow and how to best position our messaging to share what we all know Iowa to be — great career opportunities, incredible cost of living, engaging philanthropic activities and an opportunity to be part of a robust, interactive community.

Businesses, elected officials, schools and communities must work together to address our workforce and demographic issues for our economy to remain strong. It will not be one of these entities that makes the difference, but all of us working together.

• Mary Andringa is a second-generation family member and chairwoman of the board for Vermeer Corp., a global agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturer