Whether it be an generic scarce supply of workers or a critical shortage of workers with certain skills, nearly every trade magazine, industry report, business journal, metro newspaper, educational system and economic development group is talking about the workforce challenge.
In this post we summarize some of the biggest challenges and highlight a revolutionary and transformative program (Iowa BIG) that is proving itself to be a winning solution at the front lines of creating a future workforce more prepared and connected to the communities they call home.
Workforce Feels Like a Losing Battle
Battles are being fought in our schools, our communities and our companies as new programs addressing a range of topics from STEM to competency based learning and from ‘stackable’ certificates to on-the-job training are created and replicated.
And the gold rush is on for every workforce, educationally and vocationally connected organization to carve out its space to provide the answer, relying often on short term state and federal grants to create new programs with lots of strings attached.
From the outside looking in, it’s a mess and the results in many communities we’ve studied aren’t surprising. Instead of cooperation, coordination and opportunity we’re seeing confusion, competition and overlap.
Battle Tested, BIG comes up Victorious
Iowa BIG. There is an initiative based educational program in Cedar Rapids that is taking students out of the traditional classroom and putting them into real life work situations. It’s gotten the attention of former President Bill Clinton and the X-Q Super School Project, who recently awarded it $1 million in support over the next five years.
Instead of an “intern” or “hands off and watch” approach, the students of Iowa BIG work in teams to tackle projects that most small businesses know need to happen, but they may lack the time and resources to complete. Through their work on these projects, students have to demonstrate mastery 3 times corresponding to standards in the core curriculum.
If you’re questioning the methodology, think about it in these terms. In a traditional classroom environment a student learns about the fundamentals of a speech, culminating in a typical speech given in front of the class. By contrast, in Iowa Big, students are learning communication skills as they interact with business clients, write business documents and make presentations on their business solutions in front of executive teams, boards of directors and etc.
Even more awesome is the students are learning (not watching) skills employers need. For example, they’re creating SQL databases for warehousing and distribution companies; designing building expansions using tools like Sketchup; and planning and installing “edible” landscapes in urban parks.
Finally, and even more importantly, they are developing real networks of business mentors and connections that ultimately will draw them back to the communities they’ve invested themselves into improving.
Check out more information on Iowa BIG.