OTTUMWA — Low unemployment may be one of the stats politicians brag about. But Iowa's governor says she's well aware that having everyone working can actually cause headaches for business managers.
"It makes it hard to expand, to grow," Gov. Kim Reynolds said after a speech at Ottumwa Job Corps.
During a presentation celebrating National Registered Apprenticeship Week, Job Corps local director Mark Douglas said companies are desperate for employees. Either there are none, or there are none qualified to step into the position.
"Half of all jobs in Iowa require education beyond high school," said Reynolds to a crowd of business people, Job Corps trainees and educators.
As of today, only about one third of workers qualify for the better-paying jobs. Somebody, she said, had to innovate. While there are multiple resources and programs available, she's been impressed with the success and growth of apprenticeship programs.
Not only do these student-employees "earn while they learn," more than 90 percent of apprentice participants are still employed nine months later.
It also, said Douglas, helps reduce the desperation of currently shorthanded business.
"Industry has [been saying] 'we need workers, and we need workers fast.' [Even] last week, the Hy-Vee warehouse needed 40 workers."
In fact, they asked if Job Corps had 40 trainees willing to come down, learn and do the job if the warehouse provided a vehicle and gas for the youngsters' round-trip drive from Ottumwa to Centerville. Job Corps was able to help on weekends.
Reynolds and Douglas, along with US Labor Department representative Greer Sisson, named some of the current apprenticeships: Advanced CNA, cable installation, beekeeper, welding, meat cutting.
And while places like Musco Lighting and Fareway Foods have apprenticeship agreements, some smaller operations are in on the idea. Dominic Murphy is the founder of an innovative, high-tech company involved in precision measurements for agricultural use.
The business, IAMAGTECH, has a single apprentice. Murphy said he's glad to have his apprentice as both a worker "contributing to the company" and a learner. That employee had a two-year college degree, and will add two years of hands-on study working locally.
Sisson said businesses do benefit. But for employees, working while learning means less stress about an old question: Do I go to school so I can have a good paying, rewarding career? Or do I take care of my family right now taking any old job that comes along?
"With a registered apprenticeship program, they can do both," she said.
Contact courier staff writer Mark Newman at MNewman@OttumwaCourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierMark.