Ames, IA: A Treasure Trove of Talent
Workforce training and retention programs spark success throughout Story County.
Step just one foot into Ames/Story County, and you’ll soon notice that the region boasts a strong business climate.
Area leaders and higher education institutions have worked together to create workforce retention and training programs that not only help employers fill open positions, but also provide residents with the training they need to excel in a career.
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Iowa State Connects Students to Community
Iowa State University (ISU), in particular, is one institution that is set on helping folks get on the right career path. With a plethora of majors, minors and certificates to choose from, students can get the training they need to land a successful job right here in Ames.
ISU goes a step further to connect students with the Ames community, actively hosting career fairs, helping students and alumni create internship opportunities and offering on-campus interviews and networking events.
Workforce Training Academy Helps Launch Careers
Also feeding the Story County talent pool is the Workforce Training Academy hosted by Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). This program gives those with minimal higher education or job experience the chance to gain skills within a specific industry, such as advanced manufacturing, business, health care or transportation, among others.
Eligible participants of the Workforce Training Academy can receive free tuition, and upon graduation, they are equipped to fill high-need positions in the region. Additionally, the program helps provide an opportunity for students to obtain their high school diploma.
“We work with employers in our district to create short-term training programs to help meet employment needs,” says Kay Maher of DMACC’s Workforce Training Academy. “We’re preparing people for entry-level positions with the intention to grow within these positions.”
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The curricula are designed, in part, with guidance from employers on what would make a potential applicant stand out. Employers also take part in the classes, offering insight through Q & A sessions about regional careers and industries.
Since it began in 2004, the Academy has helped participants who are facing multiple barriers to employment find pathways to success. Today, the short-term programs have roughly 300 students participating, with an 83% completion rate and a 79% employment rate.
“The traditional college path doesn’t work for everyone, and these short-term training programs give our students the skills they need to join the workforce,” Maher says.
Finding Innovative Ways to Fill Roles in Story County
When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in 2020, many residents felt the negative effects. In fact, several had to start looking for a new career to keep a paycheck coming in.
To help people develop the skills they needed to obtain a new job, the DMACC formed a partnership with the Ames Chamber of Commerce, state of Iowa, Center for Creative Justice and United Way of Story County to create the Story County Workforce Innovation Program.
Through the program, which was made possible by a $86,868 grant, residents could receive free manufacturing, welding and certified nursing assistant (CNA) training.
The intensive program started in November 2020 and concluded by year-end, offering wraparound services, including transportation, child care, class materials and a laptop (this enabled participants to not only complete classwork but also search for jobs). A diverse selection of people took advantage of the program.
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“We had 28 students participate – of which, 96% are low income, 86% were adversely affected by COVID-19 and 68% of them had no education beyond high school,” says Senior Vice President of the Ames Chamber of Commerce Brenda Dryer.
“Additionally, 64% were women, 39% were persons of color and 21% of them had some contact with the justice system. They may not have had the opportunity to participate in training before, but because of this grant, they were able to get through the classes — and, in all instances, were performing above 80% on written and performance tests.”
Dryer is encouraged by the success of this program and hopes they can repeat it on an ongoing basis, adding that they also have opportunities for apprenticeships for those interested in the electric, plumbing and HVAC industries.
Want to learn more about Ames and Story County? Check out the latest edition of Livability Ames/Story County, Iowa.