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Discussion: Apprenticeships and Affordable Higher Education in Iowa

posted on March 5, 2009 at 10:48 AM

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Apprenticeships aren't just for the building trades. The U.S. Department of Labor says there are more than 1,000 occupations with apprenticeship programs training nearly 450,000 apprentices.  So, how can people find out about these earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs?  With furloughs, layoffs and business closings what are the jobs to be filled now and in the future?  And how do we train for them? 

To answer these questions tonight is Greer Sisson, she is the Iowa State Director of the Office of Apprenticeship in the U.S. Department of Labor.  Also on the program tonight is Elisabeth Buck, she is Director of the Iowa Workforce Development.  And Nancy Kothenbeutel is Executive Director of Continuing Education at Eastern Iowa Community College District in Davenport. 


Paul Yeager: Ladies, welcome to the program, glad to have you on board tonight.  Greer, I want to start with you a little bit.  What has driven the overall growth in apprenticeships in the state right now?

Greer Sisson: Jobs, people need to work and they're ready to go to work.  I think once the people know the concept of apprenticeship and what we have to offer -- in Iowa alone we have over 500 registered apprenticeship programs.  This year we've grown that number by 64 new businesses or labor management who have joined registered apprenticeship and I think what happens is that people want to learn the skills, they need to know the skills, they're interested in the occupations but they also want the paycheck so therefore they want to go right to work, they have to learn the skill or they want to continue their education and apprenticeship allows both.  We kind of look at it where it was an A-B track, either you went to school or you continued your education or you went right to your career field.  Apprenticeship and more businesses and people that know about apprenticeship realize it's an A-B track, not a C track, but an A-B track where it's offering the education and the career training at the same time.

Paul Yeager: You mentioned it's over 500 now in the state.  What are some of those -- traditionally you think of apprenticeships you think it's all union jobs -- but what is the biggest union growth?  What jobs are coming in, those new ones that you talk about, which ones are union track or union jobs?

Greer Sisson: Well, all the building trades.  Not that all the building trades are associated with labor management agreements but all the building trades that we have here we associate those a lot with our union programs.  I would say the ones that really you're going to see a lot of expansion coming up is in electrical, on the iron workers, especially if you're thinking of wind energy or things like that so any of those programs.  I expect the carpentry program to be growing.  I don't see one of the building trades not growing through the stimulus package.

Paul Yeager: So, then what about non-union ones?  What ones are we seeing the biggest growth in that direction?

Greer Sisson: We have non-union programs that are also in the building trades but also what we want to look at and you mentioned there's over 1,000 apprenticeable occupations, IT is an occupation where apprenticeship could be growing in Iowa, healthcare, there's a huge demand for healthcare that would be expanding in registered apprenticeship.  Apprenticeship goes from healthcare with nanotechnology, there's just so many things that we can get into for registered apprenticeship as long as there is a business that wants to start a program.

Paul Yeager: That's a good transition to Nancy because I want to ask why would anybody pay to go to school when they could have a future employer or a future direction that they're going to go pay for their schooling on a trade of an apprenticeship?

Nancy Kothenbeutel: One of the things we like to do is partner with Greer and her shop to do a joint approach to training.  So, we work with apprenticeships in the Quad City area and we'll provide the classroom portion and then they'll work to provide the workplace component for the learner.  Then we have some opportunities at the back end like you heard in the film earlier who a student who owns a journeyman card can come back and apply that toward an Associate of Applied Science degree at the community college and transfer it into a Bachelor's degree. So, we believe that partnership gives the student a broader option for career opportunities.

Paul Yeager: So, what has driven that change?  That sounds like it's a change from what it used to be.  What has driven the way that community college model and curriculum has gone?  Is it the jobs that are out there -- what continues to drive what you're doing?

Nancy Kothenbeutel: Well, I think that it's less of a change than you would think in that we've partnered for a long time.  So, it's always been an option.  I think people are more aware of an apprenticeship as a viable career track right now.  But we continue both options.  I think that the issue is that the community college needs to be that entity that's able to sit down with the individual student and say what works for you in your situation today.  And like Greer mentioned, there's a lot of folks out there who really need to earn and learn some because of their family responsibilities, because of the stage in their life they need that as an option.

Paul Yeager: That was talked about in the piece, one had the huge college debt and he couldn't take it on for their family.  That's interesting.  Elisabeth, Greer kind of mentioned some of the growing fields, but where are these jobs?  Where are jobs growing in the state right now?

Elisabeth Buck: Well, it's hard to tell in this economy where we think we're going to land but when you look at the jobs that we have posted today we have over 13,000 jobs posted on Iowajobs.org, the state-wide job bank.  About 20% of those jobs on that job bank currently are in the health arena.  So, we still even though we've seen a drop from about 22,000 to 13,000 just since November the health area has held strong with about 20% of the jobs still there.  As Greer mentioned, we're seeing growth in our wind energy, some of these green jobs that are out there and I think we'll see some growth with economic stimulus dollars coming in, in the construction trades and building trades areas too.

Paul Yeager: So, when you talk about wind energy, I don't know this is the exact situation that happened, but say they call Workforce Development and say we want to bring this company to Iowa, after you're the first call who is the second call when they ask can you get a workforce trained?  Who are you calling second?

Elisabeth Buck: Well, we work very closely with the Department of Economic Development to put together a package for companies that are looking to come to Iowa.  One of the first questions like you mentioned is what is the current status of your workforce and because we have so many people unemployed right now we have a very strong, robust talent pool and Iowans who are unemployed register online with our system and so we can pull up any kind of skill set that an employer needs and match them with the workers that we have.  I think the other thing that is so strong for Iowa is our community college system and our education system.  When IBM was looking at coming to Iowa and looking at Dubuque we were able to show them that within a 50 mile radius we have some excellent training facilities that we could upscale the workforce.  If we don't have the skill level that that employer needs right now we can very quickly upscale.

Paul Yeager: So, you could call Calmer and say this is what they're looking for and can train, Kirkwood, they could make a quick training -- how has that helped when you've been able to answer the phone calls or questions from potential industries that are coming to the state?

Elisabeth Buck: It's very helpful because the flexibility that we have in our community college system really allows us to work either with an employer or a future employer on what their skill needs are.  I know Nancy in her facility is training the laid off workers from Alcoa right now and John Deere and we can help those workers to transition into their next career or upscale them so that they are able to go back to the jobs they had that are becoming increasingly high technology jobs.

Paul Yeager: Let's go to the future, not so much those that are without work but those that are coming up through the system.  We heard a little bit about what Saydel does, they're not the only one, I knew growing up in Jessup they had a residential construction program for a long, long time that helped build that relationship.  Are we going to see more schools go in this direction like what Saydel has done in training students who are in high school looking ahead for what they're going to do for jobs?

Greer Sisson: I hope so.  Unfortunately the trend has been to eliminate those type of programs from schools and I think you're just now starting to see where we're trying to bring some of those career type training, skilled trainings back into school, pre-apprenticeship and that is actually the new word of the day is pre-apprenticeship.  How are we going to get people trained so they are ready and able to go into apprenticeship programs?  Obviously starting in high school is one of the best ways to do this.  We have to get these programs.  We would love to work with schools to have career clusters where you have a construction cluster, a manufacturing cluster, healthcare cluster all designed as a pre-apprenticeship program so people can choose occupations within those clusters to go into a registered apprenticeship.

Paul Yeager: So, not to put one more thing on a person in a school staff but say the guidance counselor usually is the one who handles someone who says the colleges are coming in for a visit today, you should look in this direction.  Where has that -- I can open this to anybody -- who needs to help the most in saying a worker needs to go to a pre-apprenticeship program or an apprentice program or a college or a university?  Where does that fall in determining what's the best for a student?

Nancy Kothenbeutel: Well, I believe it's a joint responsibility.  I don't know that you can put the total responsibility on any one entity whether it's workforce or apprenticeships or education.  But as the community comes together with career fairs and career opportunity information kinds of projects everybody needs to be at the table.

Paul Yeager: Who starts getting everybody to the table?  Where does that leadership need to come?

Nancy Kothenbeutel: I think education has a responsibility and we work closely with our K-12s and so that comes naturally.  But as conveners and people who deal with students on a regular basis the community college is really aware of workforce development and the Department of Labor and those kinds of opportunities.  So, we're in a situation I think where we can bring other people there and provide information for a student so they can make a better decision based on their individual needs.

Paul Yeager: How much does workforce development get involved in discussions like that, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Buck: Well, what we do is we take the labor market information from regions and counties and really any kind of breakdown that they want and we can say these are the top ten hot jobs in this area so that we're not training people for occupations where we don't have any jobs.  I think that's a problem we're in right now because we don't have a lot of job creation going on in our economy right now but we maintain a lot of data on Iowa's workforce and so we're able to produce for folks just a lot of information that can help people make good career decisions in occupations that are growing in our areas so we're an important link.

Nancy Kothenbeutel: So, what we see happening then is when there's a career fair or the high schools have career days we often go in with Iowa work and we go in jointly.

Greer Sisson: It's an area that we certainly do address and we do have an action clinic team, Connect for Effect, where Nancy is on there, Liz is on there and we have 44 different anywhere from education, obviously workforce, Office of Apprenticeship and it's all designed around that integrating of workforce registered apprenticeship with our partners in our schools.  Obviously we look at guidance counselors to help get that message across but parents as well.  But that's an audience that we can't readily get to that we need to make sure that parents are informed that going through a registered apprenticeship program that their sons and daughters are also earning college credit and they're learning that skill and they're getting paid.

Paul Yeager: So, how do you get to those parents?  How do you get into the homes if you can't get in through the schools?  Who needs to help get those parents involved?

Greer Sisson: Schools.  The schools have the link to the parents and so if the schools are talking about registered apprenticeship, the advantages and opportunities of registered apprenticeship that's going to trickle down to the parents, that information is going to get to the parents so that they understand that and, again, I guess I can't stress enough is that we certainly don't want apprenticeship to look at that it's an either-or opportunity, that it is both and we need to make sure that parents get that message as well as schools are getting that message and starting to promote that to their high school students.

Paul Yeager: Nancy, how do you tell somebody who is looking at a college versus an apprenticeship program, I know some of them are one in the same, but how do you convince them in this economy to spend the money to go to college as opposed to getting an apprenticeship?  A college likes to have students, they need to have students to keep funding and keep the doors open but what role does the college need to say, you know what, maybe this isn't the best place, this would be a better place for you to go?

Nancy Kothenbeutel: I think, again, it comes back to what the student's career goals are and what their life situation is.  Certainly we do need students and we want students to come to our college but we aren't selling in the sense of convincing you to go somewhere whether it's in your best interest or not.  What we want is you to look at your life in terms of a long-term plan and for some people a community college or a university is where they need to start.  But for others it can be a start for a very short-term, immediate entry into employment, transition into an apprenticeship program and then transition back.  There are lots of opportunities and lots of options.  It's our job to make sure that the student knows them all.

Greer Sisson: Know that the community colleges are our partners so we're not really taking students, maybe not to their credited program, but apprenticeship actually is bringing students to the community college.

Nancy Kothenbeutel: Absolutely, right.

Greer Sisson: And so we have programs where the classes are being taught in the community college and these are students that may have not going traditionally just to the college, who through apprenticeship are now fitting in their classrooms.

Paul Yeager: I get to let Liz have the last minute here.  What role does workforce development have in what the two of these ladies are talking about?  I know this is not the first time the three of you have sat at a table together.  How has that conversation evolved?  And how is it going to evolve here in the next year?

Elisabeth Buck: Well, I think one of the challenges that we've had in this action clinic has kind of helped us to do a little bit more integration is not only are we looking at high school kids transitioning into their careers but in this economy we're now looking at dislocated workers, workers who have been laid off who this may be a good opportunity for them also because most of these workers that are being laid off right now have credit card debt, have mortgages and car payments and it's hard for those folks to take a two-year hiatus from that and go to school full-time so this apprenticeship is a really important opportunity for them.  So, we're trying to link these workers with those opportunities also.

Paul Yeager: It's a never-ending process.  Elisabeth Buck, Director of Iowa Workforce Development, thank you very much.  Greer Sisson, the Director of the Office of Apprenticeship at the U.S. Department of Labor and Nancy Kothenbeutel from Davenport, good to see you again from the Eastern Iowa Community College District.  That's going to do it for this edition of The Iowa Journal.


Tags: apprenticeships business colleges community colleges Davenport economy education high schools Iowa Iowa Learning Online jobs students welding


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