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Learn how to utilize apprenticeships, internships, on-the-job training and more

Iowa’s 2.8 percent unemployment rate is the lowest in more than a decade. That’s good news for many but bad for businesses that struggle to find and retain workers with fewer people in need of employment.

The shortage affects businesses big and small and all industries.

Between 2014 and 2024, Iowa Workforce Development projects the biggest areas of employment in the state will be in: tractor-trailer truck drivers, electricians, industrial machinery mechanics, bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists, computer-controlled machine tool operators and millwrights.

IWD reports the most job openings occur in the areas of first-line supervisors for retail workers, tractor-trailer truck drivers, registered nurses, retail salespeople, customer service representatives and first-line supervisors of food preparation. Zirous, an information technology consulting company in West Des Moines, has had a shortage
in applicants for its application developer positions. These individuals have degrees in computer science or software engineering and are vital to the company’s IT services it provides to clients. The company employs 60 at its central Iowa office.

Jenni Hipwell, the human resources manager for Zirous, says the shortage of applicants stems from too few people with the skillset and education for the position and the fact that unemployment is low in the state.

West Des Moines city economic development officials each year conduct a survey in which they call between 70 and 100 businesses that range from sole proprietorships to large companies to get a forecast of the business climate.

“Early on we were hearing a lot of businesses looking for IT people,” says Clyde Evans, the city’s director of economic development. “Now, it’s anything and everything.”

Restaurants need servers and front- and back-of-the-house help. Call centers need customer service
representatives. And the list goes on. The reason, Evans says, is because business is good.

“We haven’t run into anyone who says business is lacking,” he says. “Most are in growth mode. A lot of companies are saying, ‘If I could find the people I need, we could grow so much more.’

“In a lot of cases, it’s not necessarily being picky about who they want to hire,” he continues. “There’s just not the people out there.”

State workforce officials and elected leaders have recognized changes need to be made to prepare Iowa’s workforce for the vacancies and jobs ahead. They’ve put some plans and programs in place, including Future Ready Iowa, an initiative to build Iowa’s talent pipeline by giving people the knowledge and technical skills they need to fill the jobs of Iowa’s future.

There are other ways businesses can help. Here are five ideas for how businesses can fill worker shortages:

1. Utilize apprenticeships, internships, on-the-job training

Evans says there used to be a lot of hype that people needed to go to a four-year college to have a good career. That’s no longer the case. The average wage for a plumber is $70,000.

The issue is a shortage of individuals with the skills needed to perform jobs in the construction industry. This includes plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians and more.

Apprenticeships are common in the trades industries to provide people with the skills they need to perform jobs, but state officials hope more types of businesses will see the benefit in offering them.

The Center for American Progress reports apprenticeships may be a solution to the worker shortage and widening skills gap. In the United States, the Department of Labor administers registered apprenticeships and gives workers who complete an apprenticeship a nationally recognized certificate for their work.

Zirous has struggled in the past with hiring application developers, those with degrees in
computer science and software engineering, and amped up its recruitment efforts to find more
people with those skills and degrees.

The U.S. apprenticeship system is smaller than other countries, according to the Center, a Washington, D.C., independent nonpartisan policy institute. For example, 70 percent of young people in Switzerland enter the workforce through apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships benefit employers by providing them with a pipeline of loyal, skilled workers who have customized skills that can meet the business’ specific needs and are more loyal to the company that invested in them; by creating greater productivity through a work environment that has a culture of learning and opportunity for its workers; and by saving money because apprentices usually earn 40 percent to 50 percent less than a
fully-trained employee.

The electrical field is required to apprentice its workers before they test to become journeymen electricians. There are about 260 electrician openings each year, according to data from Iowa Workforce Development.

Membership into a union can provide some job protection. Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 347 in Des Moines pulls in IBEW members from other jurisdictions when there’s a shortage of electricians in the metro to complete jobs.

“There’s never really a shortage completely like in a typical industry,” says Patrick Wells, the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 347 in Des Moines.

However, Wells said the best option would be to have more workers in Iowa to fill positions. Last year, during the peak construction season, there were 400 IBEW members from other jurisdictions working in the metro.

IBEW trains its workers through an apprenticeship program that begins with a preapprentice program called “construction wireman,” which is a way for a younger person to try a job in the electrical field before they apply to the journeyman apprentice training program. It may take an individual a few years before they are accepted into the apprenticeship program, Wells says.

“We’re pulling in more apprentices today than we ever have,” he says.

The union pays for the apprentice’s schooling, and the individual is paid on a graduated pay scale throughout his or her five-year training. Wells says the competitive pay and benefits are what draw most people to the electrical field and keep them. Once an individual is done with school, he or she starts at the top rather than having to work from the ground up and is without student loans, he says.

Internships and on-the-job training are other ways businesses can ensure employees, even those who come in with no previous experience, receive the skills they need.

IBEW in June joined with Des Moines Public Schools and other trades industries for a weeklong camp for girls that focused on careers in the construction industry. The 33 girls practice wiring a light switch and bending conduit for electrical wire.

“We showed them some basic things, so they can see and feel what we do on a smaller scale,” Wells says.

Zirous has reached out to college students at Iowa State University’s career fair and Drake University and has offered a summer internship program to bring potential future employees into the company. Many of those students have worked part time throughout the school year and have even taken full-time employment after graduation, which has helped Zirous receive the skilled workers it needs, Hipwell says.

“That really helps us with recruitment when we’ve had those shortages and need to find someone,” she says.

Tradesmen International Des Moines is always hiring workers in construction, HVAC, carpentry, electrical and other trades. Brad Watson, the project coordinator for Tradesmen, says many trades workers left the construction industry after the 2008 recession.

“A lot of people had gotten out of it,” he says. “More people are getting back into it now, and now we have a gap of people. You would normally have that higher-level skilled guys.”

There can also be turnover in the industry. Within the first 30 to 60 days, most new workers decide whether they’ll stick with it, Watson says. That can make competition even stiffer for experienced workers.

“There is a big fight to get these skilled guys,” he says. “Everyone is fishing out of the same pond.”

All workers receive schooling that consists of on-the-job site and safety training and classroom instruction. Most unskilled workers can be fully trained and have their license within four to five years.

“We hire skilled or unskilled craftsmen and place them with companies that work with them to support their project labor-wise,” Watson says. “We help them grow, and it gives them a chance to work year-round and further their skills.”

About 50 percent of those who apply to positions with Tradesmen have experience, and the age of applicants ranges from those who are 18 and fresh out of high school to 40 years old.

2. Offer additional benefits, competitive wages

The National Federation of Independent Business reported earlier this year that finding qualified workers was the top concern of small-business owners above taxation. About 54 percent reported finding few or no qualified workers to fill open positions.

That’s why the number of small-business owners who planned to raise compensation at the start of 2018 in an
attempt to retain qualified employees or attract others was the second highest in history, an NFIB Jobs Report shows.

In the construction industry, competitive wages and consistent work are selling points to attract employees,
Watson says. Offering benefits to employees also has helped Tradesmen recruit and keep more people, especially after the tax penalty tied to the Affordable Care Act, he says.

3. Up-level current employees, those looking for career change

Rob Denson, president
of Des Moines Area
Community College

Middle-skill jobs make up the largest part of the labor market in the United States and each of the 50 states, according to the National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition that was founded in 1998 to help America grow its economy by ensuring people have the skills to perform jobs. Between 2014 and 2024, 52 percent of the job openings in Iowa will be for middleskills jobs, NSC reports. These are jobs that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

About half of those who apply at Tradesmen have no experience in the field and want a new career. They’re given that opportunity to learn, Watson says.

“It’s a difficult game,” he explains. “Obviously, we want guys who can go out with experience, but everybody has to start somewhere.”

The company hires workers almost every day who are new, some in their 40s, as well as seasoned journeymen.

Hipwell with Zirous recently filled the company’s last vacancy but says it’s also been difficult to find people with the skills to fill senior-level application developer positions.

The company’s employees are constantly trained on the latest IT products to assist clients and to up-level employees from within.

Des Moines Area Community College workswith businesses to develop non-credit and certificate programs to help fill worker shortages and to retrain current employees to take on more skilled jobs.

“The idea is that you can backfill some of those entry-level positions at a different time,” says Mike Hoffman, the director of continuing education for DMACC. “A lot of it is retainment of people they currently have on staff, so they don’t jump to another job for another $1 an hour.”

This may mean offering employees anopportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program or a certificate program through DMACC where they can learn new skills for a more advanced, higher-paying job.

Manufacturing is another industry that is struggling to fill jobs, Hoffman says. DMACC officials have helped manufacturers recruit and retrain workers to fill those positions, as well as reach out to high school students to introduce them to a manufacturing career and change the perception of the industry from a dirty place to work to one where math and robotics are used.

DMACC has more than 60 non-credit certificate programs, some that involve tuition assistance through grants; others are done in conjunction with businesses. These include trades areas such as blueprint reading and welding, healthcare careers that include learning how to intake patients and bill, and culinary careers and hotel
management.

A non-credit program trains an individual more quickly and can provide individuals with the skills they need and put them on the career path faster, Hoffman says.

“Everything we develop is based on industry need and demand,” he says. “If the demand isn’t there anymore, we don’t want to offer something if people aren’t going to be employable.”

One area that’s currently being discussed is a social media/marketing certificate that would train individuals on how to use Facebook and other social media for business purposes based on need from the business community, Hoffman says.

4. Tap into state programs

There are several state-funded workforce training programs that local community colleges administer that are available to businesses. The programs provide soft skills, technical and on-the-job workforce training.

Iowa Workforce Development’s registered apprenticeship program works with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and businesses across the state to increase apprenticeships. There are more than 1,400 occupations that can be apprenticed through the DOL from the traditional skilled trades positions to healthcare and the
financial industries, Amy Beller, the program’s coordinator, says.

Apprenticeships work for companies because “you are broadening your pool of applications because you are hiring based on potential rather than credentials,” she says. “You’re training the person up so they become a skilled worker.”

Any business, regardless of size, is eligible to meet with an IWD business marketing specialist to work through its needs and decide how they can utilize the registered apprenticeship program. The only requirement is that the business have a one-to-one ratio of skilled worker/mentor to apprentice.

There is some grant money available through the state for on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs if the business meets certain requirements. The state is accepting requests for proposal through July 27 at this link: https://bidopportunities.iowa.gov/Home/GetBidOpportunityDocument/db177c29-9d96-46e4-80b8-c83eba07668e.

Evans says West Des Moines officials have put together an advisory group of superintendents from school districts within the city limits to discuss career development and how to educate students and parents about the careers of today.

City officials also have worked with DMACC’s west campus to create a program for high school juniors to attend DMACC once a week and begin a program in IT pathways. During the student’s senior year, he or she specializes in a specific IT area. Upon high school graduation, the student completes one more year at DMACC to earn a two-year degree. Many from the first cohort were hired within a few weeks at jobs making between
$50,000 and $100,000 a year, Evans says.

5. Explore other options

Jenni Hipwell is the human resources manager for Zirous, a West Des Moines information technology consulting company.

Evans says West Des Moines officials also are doing everything they can to ensure prospective employees want to move to the city to work. They’re developing a program in conjunction with the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce to bring together interns who are working in the community and provide them with resume advice,
as well as information about how to apply for a job and navigate through the interview process. Part of the program is a tour of the city of West Des Moines to show the interns what the city has to offer and the employment opportunities once they graduate.

Hipwell with Zirous says she utilizes work and job boards from IWD, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Iowa’s colleges and universities, and memberships to which Zirous belongs to post job openings and attract applicants.

Zirous also offers its employees a referral program if they refer a potential applicant who is hired by the company.

Of the 2 percent of people who are unemployed, Hoffman with DMACC suggests looking more closely at those individuals.

“Most businesses are struggling because the number of people aren’t there with the unemployment number being so low,” Hoffman says. “Where do you go for those positions?”

An option could lie with training prisoners and preparing them for appropriate jobs based on ability and crime for areas where there are shortages in workers, he says.

“It’s the whole: ‘Where are those populations that we haven’t tapped into yet?’ ” Hoffman says.

Rob Denson, president of DMACC, says education officials also are looking more closely at subgroups within the unemployment rate. The percentage of minorities and low-income individuals who are unemployed is even higher, so officials are reaching out to minority groups and others who would be willing to go door to door in
some of the poorest census tracts in the city and assist these individuals with finding and attaining
employment.

“The jobs are there,” he says. “We just need the ability to get them into the system.”

Employers also need to remember individuals with disabilities when they are considering prospective employees,
says Troy Raymer, director of clinical and community services for Candeo, a not-for-profit business in central Iowa that helps people who have various disabilities live in the community and gain employment.

Although the state unemployment rate is low, 35 percent of disabled people are unemployed.

“We need to help people with disabilities find competitive employment doing real competitive jobs,” he says. “We have folks who work in all sorts of different places. They are another option that’s an untapped resource. People who would like to work. Employers have not learned the skills to help those with disabilities work.” ♦

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