More than 20 students and staff from area high schools participated in a Southwestern Community College tour of Cardinal Glass in Greenfield and Ferrara Candy Company in Creston.
The event showcased the dire need to replace an aging, skilled workforce and diminish any negative connotations commonly associated with construction and electrical work.
“I just think it’s a good opportunity for educating the kids,” said Southwest Valley Industrial Technology Instructor Tracy King. “I think that it is the way to go for the future. There is a great need for these jobs in the area, and the kids are interested in it, so it would be a waste not to bring them over.”
SWCC Career and Technical Recruiter Bill Huntington led the tour. The event was a prelude to a workforce summit in Osceola Tuesday at Lakeside Casino, which includes keynote speaker and gold medalist wrestler Dan Gable.
“I was thoroughly impressed with the sophistication of the automation of the machines at Cardinal Glass and Ferrara Candy Company,” Huntington said. “These are highly technical and professional jobs, and they are hurting for new, skilled workers to fill them.”
Huntington said across the United States, the aging population of the baby boomer generation and lack of interest in skilled-labor work has created a gap in the workforce.
He added, local businesses are struggling to find dependable welders, maintenance workers, electricians, accountants and machinists.
In an effort to spark the interest of high school students and retrain current members of the workforce searching for a new career, Southwestern offers a wide variety of classes that help elevate individuals to professionals in skilled-labor jobs.
SWCC Electrical Technology Instructor Jeff Stuber gave a short presentation on the tour highlighting the variety of jobs that open up after obtaining an associate degree in his program.
“I want my guys to go out and swing a hammer and pull wire, but that’s not where you have to end up, that’s for sure,” Stuber said. “I believe there is a perceived thing that says construction is dirty, but there is nothing better than saying I worked on that building, that was mine, I wired that one.”
Stuber added many companies give preference to workers with an associate degree or those who enter apprenticeship programs. It also opens up doors to be inspectors, educators, contract workers or the opportunity to open a personal business.
In addition to electrical technology, Southwestern has carpentry, welding and automotive courses to prepate students to enter the workforce straight out of school.
Stuber’s first class recently graduated from the electrical technology program, and his students had a 100 percent success rate for finding jobs with their degree.
“Seeing all the available classes, all of that just excites me, just gets me hyped, knowing that there is work always going to be there for me,” said Creston High School Senior Caleb Cramer.
Stuber said Iowa is at the forefront for upgrading skilled-labor professions to professional status.
“I love the licensing,” Stuber said. “It makes sure everyone has this standard level of competencies, and not everybody can get that license. I love the way the state is putting together their electrical package.”
At the workforce summit in Osceola, Huntington will give a joint presentation with SWCC’s Dean of Students Beth Kulow to educators, business professionals, community members, workforce professionals and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“Southwestern offers the programs to students coming out of high school or adults in the workforce searching for sufficient training to start a new, successful career,” Huntington said. “We are a key component to close the gap on the lack of skilled workers in the southwest region of the state and even throughout the country.”