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Skilled Iowa a stepping stone to getting a better life

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 11:44 a.m. CDT

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I’ve probably mentioned this before, but for the purpose of the discussion we’re going to have over the coming days, it’s important to point this out.

I do not have a college degree. I don’t have an MA, BA or even an AA. I don’t even have a career readiness certificate. I probably have the equivalent education and classwork to earn up to a four-year degree if someone went through my military and journalism training since embarking on my career, though.

And that’s the point of what I’m about to share with you. I had latent skills that were honed with on-the-job training. I never stopped learning as I progressed through my career, which has led me to where I am today. To some of you, that might not be all that impressive.

But if you ever read the scathing letter I received from a former editor of Iowa’s largest daily newspaper in 1999, you might see things a little differently. As of this writing, with Tuesday’s receipt of a letter indicating more awards for the Daily News this year, newsrooms under my direction as either editor or publisher have won more than 100 awards from the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Embarking on this career without a degree wasn’t easy. It took hard work — a lot of hard work — to get where I’m at today: like a starting wage of $8 an hour, sometimes working 60-, 70- and 80-hour weeks while being paid for only 40, and sacrificing very valuable time with family to ensure my work was completed.

But it also has been very rewarding. And that’s why the Daily News is promoting Iowa Workforce Development’s Skilled Iowa program as its community service project for 2012. I look around the community, I see the unemployment numbers, and I know there are people here who would like to move up, but just need a hand up.

I monitor the comments on our website and on Facebook, so I know what the naysayer’s thinking right now. So, let’s address the white elephant in the room before we get too far into this discussion.

No, many of the manufacturing jobs in Newton will not pay what Maytag used to pay. And they probably never will. That’s just a cold, hard fact all of us are going to have to get used to. But, taking one of these jobs, getting the on-the-job training and grinding through the job for three, four or five years can provide a valuable stepping stone to jobs that do.

I have several family members who work for Vermeer in Pella, and I know for a fact all of them make more money than I do. I also know most of them are doing it without a college degree — just like me — but got their foot in the door by building off of their on-the-job training.

No, not every employer provides the pay and work environment of an international corporation like Vermeer. But, in general, the manufacturing sector does provide good, clean, high-paying jobs. And while those kinds of jobs require a high degree of skill in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — they don’t necessarily require college degrees.

Good grades can show an aptitude for these all-important skills, which can be the initial stepping stones to the high-paying jobs we all want to see. But it costs employers a lot of money to provide on-the-job training. They’re willing to do it, but only if they’re sure a candidate is going to be a good investment.

So how does an employer know for sure it’s going to be a good investment of valuable time and company resources to hire someone “with potential” who he or she later discovers lacks other important skills that can’t be measured from outward first impressions? For instance, does the candidate have the soft skills — showing up for work, appropriate interpersonal relations, correct grooming and hygiene — that will ensure he or she not only has the basic job skills, but the basic life skills to be a good, long-term employee?

Skilled Iowa, through the National Career Readiness assessment process, measures all of those things, and targets areas where a potential candidate needs more work to ensure he or she is the right hire for the job. Skilled Iowa also offers training programs that beneficial both to employers and employees, such as the eight-week “test run” program that is offered.

Now, obviously, this isn’t a golden ticket that is going to instantly turn someone’s life around. But, the potential impact for Newton and Jasper County should be equally as obvious.

Through Skilled Iowa, a person who only has the skills for menial labor or other low-skilled jobs that pay at or barely above minimum wage have a chance to move up to middle-skilled employment that pays better and opens the door to more opportunities for personal advancement. This means a better-skilled, higher-paid workforce that has more local spending power.

And, as more and more people acheive National Career Readiness certification, economic development directors can better market the area to other manufacturers who can potentially bring in more highly skilled, highly paid jobs. These jobs need facilities, whether filling space currently available or building new spaces, which add to the local tax base.

It’s a winner for everyone. And that’s why we at the Daily News are 100-percent onboard.

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com via email.

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