Until this year Iowa had been one of only three states in the nation that did not spend state tax dollars on adult literacy programs.
Elisabeth Buck, a spokeswoman for the United Way organizations in Iowa, is part of the “Iowa Skills2Compete Coalition” that was created in 2012 to lobby for change. :and community colleges.
“This coalition was made up of key employers from four different sectors: advanced manufacturing, health care, financial services and energy, and community partners and community colleges,” Buck says.
On July 1, the state began spending $10.5 million to finance adult literacy programs as well as hire staff to help low-skill workers enroll in for-credit programs that will help them get better jobs.
“This work has been really instrumental,” Buck says. “Just in the first few months that we’ve had this funding we’re already seeing a big change.”
For example, on Friday, December 13 over 300 Iowans lined up Des Moines Area Community College’s urban campus to enroll in English Language classes.
“These were adults who are looking for help to get back on their feet to get to a career pathway for jobs,” Buck says. “These additional dollars for adult basic education and English Language Learning classes will really make a difference as we see these needs in our communities for adults to get upskilled.”
Over 290,.000 Iowa adults of working age do not have a high school diploma or a GED.
“About 60 percent of our jobs in this state are what are called ‘middle skill’ jobs, so workers need more than a high school degree to be eligible for these jobs that are out there,” Buck says, “and currently only 33 percent of our workforce here in Iowa have the skills necessary for these jobs.”
Buck says it’s important to focus on improving the skills of adult workers, as there won’t be enough young people entering the workforce to fill available jobs. The “Iowa Skills2Compete Coalition” estimates that in 2025, two-thirds of Iowa’s workforce will have been employed since 2011.