The help wanted signs in newspapers, social media and at businesses clearly suggests workforce development is a critical issue. The governor and general assembly have an opportunity to have a positive impact on this situation in the coming general assembly.
The workforce challenges have been emerging from a variety of sources. Many Iowa counties now have at least 25% of the population who are 65 or greater, and these people are leaving the workforce due to retirement age. The pandemic has struck another blow to workforce capacity. It is estimated 6% of Iowans are facing long-term covid complications (Center for Disease Control) which results in full or partial removal from the workforce. A further challenge is some families cannot access day care, or the potential income from them working does not justify paying for daycare and working thus one member of the family stays out of the workforce.
We do have opportunities to move forward positively to reduce the pressures on filling vacancies in the workforce. The policy options may be:
1. Communities develop public/private partnerships to increase pay/benefits for daycare workers to ensure greater access for daycare.
2. Recruit migrant workers to rural areas. Peter Orazem, ISU economist, stated in the Cedar Rapids Gazette (11.22.22) that migrant recruitment is essential to relieve the worker shortage in Iowa.
3. Assist employers to become more skilled to support workers who have mental/physical challenges. This could result in deeper partnerships and greater funding for vocational rehabilitation.
Iowa must redesign supports for finding, training and retaining the workforce by supporting workers with diverse needs. Filling open positions and retaining workers will take leadership from the State House and creativity at the local level to meet the unique needs of each community.