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Newton leaders pushing for Skilled Iowa designation

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 11:42 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 11:44 a.m. CDT

Becoming a Skilled Iowa community is a great way for a city to attract new business to the area, offer valid proof of a qualified workforce and showcase economic growth opportunities.

The purposed of Skilled Iowa is to solve the lack of middle-skill workers available in the workforce. One way of combating this is offering up a free assessment test. The test — the National Career Readiness Certification assessment test — would then give a certification of bronze, silver, gold and platinum which can show potential employers a person’s qualifications for any position.

Newton Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Liebl and Newton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Darrell Sarmento are working hard for Newton to gain the designation as a Skilled Iowa community.

The duo met with Craig Immerfall of Iowa Works recently to discuss the latest metrics and steps needed for Newton to earn that designation.

“I think the first objective is to get the companies to sign on as one of the Skilled Iowa companies,” Liebl said.

Currently, there are 1,978 Skilled Iowa businesses in the state and 29 in Newton. Newton is currently at 6.08 percent of its businesses and narrowing the gap on the goal of 10 percent of businesses.

Sarmento believes that a lot of people and companies haven’t embraced Skilled Iowa due to it being such a new initiative.

“Sometimes people just need a nudge. This is a good thing,” Sarmento said. “I think that’s the big thing, too. When something is new, people want to know it’s not going anywhere. Skilled Iowa is not going anywhere. It has got bi-partisan support, and no matter what side of the political aisle you fall on, it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to be a tool that is here to stay. So let’s just commit to doing it. It’s not going to be a one-year fad or something like that.”

Sarmento plans to use local media, his connections with local HR directors, and the NDC newsletters as a way of spreading the word on Skilled Iowa in Newton.

Liebl also mentioned that getting the Newton DMACC campus involved with the process could really help. The trio also suggested connecting with both Newton Senior High School and Basics & Beyond Alternative School to discuss the potential of having junior and senior students take the NCRC assessment.

The current metrics show that Newton is well on its way to attaining Skilled Community designation, possibly within the year. Member business employment has already surpassed the goal of 20 percent and currently sits at 28.49 percent.

Newton specific data was unavailable for the Unemployed NCRC Holders Work Force metric, but the Jasper County number was at 13.48 percent compared to the goal of 20 percent.

The biggest hindrance to Newton becoming a Skilled Iowa community is the Current Labor Force or Employed NCRC Holders metric, currently only 0.75 percent, compared to the 5 percent goal. This number indicates the percentage of currently employed Newton workers who have taken the test.

There was much discussion on how to get employers to get on board and have their employees take the assessment. One suggestion is to have employers inform employees of the Keytrain practice test, that is available free and online at skillediowa.org.

“We could set up a session where they learn about Keytrain so they know what to expect,” Liebl said. “If I’m working at a company right now and I go, ‘Ugh my employer wants me to take that test,’ and I come out there and all of a sudden I bomb this test.  I’m going to be a little bit worried and say, ‘Gosh, what is my boss thinking of me? He thought I was a gold candidate and I come in as a bronze.’ Maybe that’s a feeling, maybe not.”

With Newton doing well in three of the four criteria categories for Skilled Iowa, Liebl and Sarmento are planning to really push to get that last number up significantly.

“For me, getting Skilled Iowa going as a part of our culture in the chamber,” Sarmento said. “Bringing public awareness to what it means to our community and our economic development (is important). I will begin to engage with all of those I network with.”

“I think the day is coming when companies say, ‘We will only interview you if you have a NCRC certificate,’” Liebl said.

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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