Innovating Iowa's Workforce

Gov. Reynolds visiting with a student in an industrial arts class.

The key to economic growth is to build a highly skilled workforce. Iowa has more job openings available than there are people trained to fill them. The state’s commitment to increase the number of Iowans with education or training beyond high school, and willingness to improve access to affordable housing and childcare, will make it a destination for building successful careers and lives. 

Future Ready Iowa 

Iowans celebrate the fact that our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and our economy is vibrant and strong. But the state is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers across every region and all types of industries from manufacturing and skilled trades, to health care and information technology. 

In 2018, Gov. Reynolds signed the Future Ready Iowa Act, launching an aggressive workforce policy initiative to ensure 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce achieve training or education beyond high school by 2025. Since then, Future Ready Iowa programs have made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of Iowans seeking new opportunities.

More than $30 million has now been invested in Future Ready Iowa, mostly supporting scholarships and grants that create pathways to high-demand careers. This year,
Gov. Reynolds proposes building on that investment so the state continues to make progress toward its goal.

  • Increase funding for Last Dollar Scholarships by $10 million for a total of $23 million to cover tuition for students enrolled in eligible community and private college programs  leading to high-demand jobs.  
  • Include $1.2 million for the Employer Innovation Fund, a grant program to help communities carry out initiatives that address local workforce issues.

Occupational Licensing

To attract and retain skilled workers, Iowa must remove barriers to professional licensing that put the state at a competitive disadvantage. Twenty-five percent of Iowa workers need a license from the state to do their jobs, the second highest rate in the nation. In June of 2020, Governor Reynolds passed a significant reform package and now Iowa has the most flexible licensing reciprocity and recognition laws in the country. This reform: 

  • Allows new Iowa residents with an out-of-state license to use their skills and training in the same licensed profession without additional red tape 
  • Recognizes work experience as a substitute for formal education
  • Waives initial licensing fees for low-income applicants
  • Sets a uniform standard of review for denial of licensure based on a person’s criminal history

Governor Reynolds believes in building on these efforts and proposes periodic comprehensive reviews of all state licensing boards and commissions to make sure they are serving their purpose.

Work-based Learning

Work-based learning empowers students to apply what they learn in the classroom to hands-on, real-life professional experiences. Students have the opportunity to test drive careers and build skills for the workplace. Employers benefit by developing their workforce talent pipeline earlier. 

To continue Iowa’s progress in integrating work-based learning into schools, Governor Reynolds has the following goals:

  • By 2023, 75% of Iowa school districts will have one or more school-business partnerships. 
  • By 2024, all high school students will participate in at least one work-based learning experience.

To help schools and families meet these goals, Governor Reynolds proposes:

  • Allowing Iowa school districts to share work-based learning coordinators, who integrate career experiences into the classroom and connect students to work-based learning experiences with local employers.
  • Expanding Iowa’s STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) program with an additional $700,000 appropriation. STEM BEST connects schools and businesses together to prepare students for career pathways in the STEM fields of manufacturing, information technology, bioscience, finance and more.
  • Expanding high school Registered Apprenticeship programs, which help expose students to new job opportunities earlier and provide a career pathway for them upon graduation. Iowa currently leads the nation in high school Registered Apprenticeships as well as adult Registered Apprenticeship programs per capita.