Business and education: An alliance required for success

Preparing America’s 21st century workforce to stay the most competitive in the world is an issue that can only be successful if community leaders get heavily involved in education. Ensuring our economic security requires us to brazenly stay on the path of continual educational improvement. It also will require the forging of closer relationships among our high schools, colleges, workforce training providers and employers. Businesses are what drive state economies and they can help secure their own economic future by aligning their skill needs with the education institutions who provide them with a qualified product – well educated workers.

We know it will be the workers with education in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) who will be best prepared to capture the high-wage jobs of the next decade, including those in health care, machine trades, welding, management and advanced manufacturing. Those are the jobs that will support families and help state economies thrive. By collaborating as a community we can work to prepare our workforce for the 21st century, by aligning business leaders and educators with the projected demands of tomorrow’s labor market.

With all that said, I was honored recently to have been asked by Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds to attend a meeting of the National Governor’s Association dealing with the workforce issues facing employers today. Dr. Chris Duree, chancellor of Iowa Valley Community College, joined me and it is without question we were invited because of the innovative things we have done in Marshalltown in connecting business and education over past couple of years.

We were a small, three person Iowa delegation, plus Gov. Branstad and Doug Hoelscher, from the Governor’s Washington, DC office. We took this as an opportunity to network with more than 30 other states in attendance – including Governor Fallin and Governor Jay Nixon from Missouri – to share and discuss best practices in the workforce world today. With Governor Branstad’s full attention and participation, our small team met together for several hours each day and shared may of the success stories we’ve experienced recently with our fellow states.

As we met with NGA leadership and other invited experts, we spent a particular amount of time discussing “The New Minimum” – which is defined by the fact that over the past 30 years, 44 percent more jobs require something above a high school diploma, and that by 2030, 52 percent of all jobs will require something more. We discussed the middle skills dilemma we have in Iowa and how our local STEM initiatives have begun to attack the need for machinists, welders, nurses and other mid-level technical jobs. As the conversation went on it became clear that in Marshalltown we are on the right track.

Other states listened to our stories intently and asked questions about how we implemented undertakings like the Marshalltown Business/Education Alliance (MBEA) we formed a couple years ago which serves to assure the skill needs of local businesses are aligned with the school systems in Marshalltown, to include MCC. We explained the Marshalltown Educational Partnership program for first generation college attendees, the Machine Operator Training Program Fisher developed with MCC a few years back which has become a model across the state of Iowa, the dual career tracks we offer our high school students targeting middle skills, how we desire to become a Skilled Iowa community by embracing the National Career Readiness testing, the Spread the Word Read by 3rd youth reading program, and how we are working with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and all 15 Iowa community colleges to promote a program called Elevate Advanced Manufacturing. Elevate is a program that works to change the erroneous perception that manufacturing is still hot, dirty sweatshops rather what it really is – an industry sector offering many high paying jobs and careers.

There was tremendous interest in how Marshalltown has been able to get such intense involvement from the business community which is why we seem to be so far ahead of many other states. Yes, we can rejoice, but we cannot relax. We are doing great things, but there is much more to do. Talk to your local educators and students. Get involved! Join us in taking on the task of keeping employers and educators connected. It is just the type of thing that makes Marshalltown the most innovative city in Iowa.

Paul Gregoire is the vice president of global human resources for Fisher/Emerson Process Management in Marshalltown.