Mark Edwards and Rob Denson talk Opportunity in Iowa•
As the country emerges from a painful recession, Iowans have much to be thankful for, including an average unemployment rate significantly below the national average — 5.1 percent compared with 8.1 percent.
But the rate of Iowa’s young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working is 9.4 percent. In central Iowa, that figure reaches as high as 17 percent.
We know the challenge of helping many of these young people gain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in today’s global economy is the economic equivalent to the race to put a man on the moon in the 1960s.
We made it then and we can make it now.
But just like that effort, we have a long way to go before we get there.
And it will take all of us. Community members, business and political leaders, educators, parents, young people. Together we must find ways to help more of our youth embark on meaningful educational and career pathways.
Everyone benefits when our young people are engaged: families, neighborhoods, communities and Iowa as a whole.
We believe 2013 is a Year of Opportunity in Iowa.
Iowans have a famously strong work ethic, an innate sense of fairness and deep faith in the power of the American Dream. For generations, these assets have helped millions of our friends, neighbors and relatives obtain well-paying jobs and fulfilling careers; build healthy and vibrant communities; and ensure that their children were a bit better off than those who came before them.
Today, we know these strengths, while vital, are no longer sufficient. For our young people to have a fair shot at achieving the economic mobility and professional success enjoyed by previous generations, they need higher levels of skills and education than ever before.
In 1973, just 28 percent of American jobs required an associate degree or higher. By 2018, economists project that 63 percent will require some form of postsecondary training.
A significant portion of those jobs are so-called middle-skill jobs that afford a middle-class lifestyle and require an associate degree or industry-recognized credential rather than a four-year college degree.
Iowa Workforce Development reports that 56 percent of jobs in our state today require these middle skills. Yet only 33 percent of Iowans have the postsecondary training required for these jobs.
The world has changed. We cannot afford for Iowans to be left behind.
That’s why more than a year ago, Des Moines Area Community College and several other Iowa organizations teamed up with Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan national campaign dedicated to helping states expand economic mobility and jump-start the American Dream.
This partnership has harnessed the momentum building in Iowa and inspired the creation in 2012 of a local affiliate, Opportunity Iowa.
Opportunity Nation’s Opportunity Index has provided Iowans state and county data on key economic, educational and community measures. This is valuable information about our region’s economic and civic health, and it offers support through a national network and resources.
Increasing the number of students who graduate from high school and boosting the number of Iowans who enroll in and receive degrees or certificates from postsecondary institutions are critical to improvement.
On Friday, more than 200 educational, business, nonprofit and civic leaders are gathering at DMACC’s Ankeny campus for “Opportunity in Iowa: Closing the Gaps Between Youth and Economic Success.” These stakeholders are sharing ideas and brainstorming concrete ways to increase opportunity index scores in Iowa.
We all must work together to make sure the ladder of opportunity reaches more of our young people, who are our state’s greatest resource and hope.
We must identify struggling students at the first sign of trouble during their elementary, middle and high school years.
We must help our disengaged youth find their niche, remain in or re-enter school, and thrive.
We must double our efforts to help more disconnected young people receive their high school equivalency credentials if they have dropped out. And we need to make it easier for them to continue on to relevant training programs that will lead to meaningful careers.
Programs like DMACC’s Gateway to College partnership with the Des Moines Public Schools are making a difference. But we need to reach even more students.
We must ensure that our public schools, community colleges, technical institutes, colleges and research universities offer dynamic programs that match the needs of our employers and the global economy.
We cannot waste a minute.
Iowans, this is our opportunity.