Why we need new solutions

Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. The tight job market makes it hard for employers to find and keep the talent they need.

  • 55% of all jobs in central Iowa require training or education beyond a high school diploma but less than an associate degree. 
  • 32% of central Iowa’s workforce has these skills.

Below are specific challenges central Iowa’s workforce faces—issues that Central Iowa Works is focused on addressing with these solutions:



Central Iowa’s Skills Gap

Many factors lead to central Iowa’s skills gap:

  • Some students struggle to find meaningful career pathways and drop out before earning a high school diploma. 35,000 central Iowa adults do not have a high school diploma, and one in four of them live at or below the federal poverty level. (U.S. Census).
  • Job seekers may need additional knowledge and training to gain the skills employers are looking for, or they may need support connecting with the right jobs that match their skills and learning how to present themselves during the hiring process.
  • Hiring practices can keep strong candidates from applying for jobs, or employers may overlook certain job seekers—especially minorities, those with disabilities, and those with a criminal record.


Industry Challenges

Specific industries in central Iowa especially face challenges in attracting talent that can serve our community’s needs now and in the future.

Health Care

The health care and social assistance sector grew 12.9% from 2006-2014. Meanwhile, 40% of central Iowa’s health care workers could retire in the next 5-10 years, creating a huge shortage in workers who can fill positions that are critical to providing healthcare to central Iowans. Health care jobs pay an average wage of more than $41,000, giving more central Iowans who have the right training an opportunity to become financially stable. In addition, the field has an opportunity to hire minority populations that represent the community it serves. (Iowa Workforce Development)


Retail and Service

Central Iowa has a larger share of people employed in the retail, service, and hospitality industries than in the state and nation, but employers struggle to fill entry-level, service-heavy jobs. In particular, employers say it is challenging to find employees who have soft skills and professionalism, while employees struggle with constantly changing schedules and child care and transportation options outside of normal work hours.



Untapped Talent

Central Iowa has job seekers who could gain the education and skills needed to fill jobs, but several barriers prevent them from accessing those opportunities. The following groups especially struggle to enter good jobs:

New Iowans

40% of Iowa’s population growth since 2010 has come from immigration (The Gazette, 2018). The top challenges New Iowans face are a lack of English skills, cultural differences, navigating healthcare, and finding transportation and childcare. (USCRI and Catholic Charities). Many refugees and immigrants have education and skills that are not recognized in the United States or they may struggle to find opportunities. Yet they possess many strengths, including the ability to speak multiple languages and to share rich experiences. Learn more.

Individuals with a Record

Each year, 5,000 citizens return to Iowa after serving time in state prisons. One year after release, 60% of people convicted of a crime are not employed (National Institute of Justice).  Many ex-offenders talk about being offered a well-paying, full-time job after going through the hiring process and then having that offer taken away once a background check is complete. Or hiring managers ask up front whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime. As a result, returning citizens are often stuck in a series of part-time or minimum-wage positions or fall back into criminal habits to earn enough money to survive.

The cost of not having a job and being able to re-establish themselves in our community is great. Most people released from prisons are re-arrested within three years, and 70% of children with an incarcerated parent will follow in their parent’s footsteps.


People with Disabilities

One of the largest minority groups in the U.S. is individuals with disabilities, making up 11.8% of central Iowa's population. According to the 2015 Kessler Foundation Employment and Disability Survey, 69% of Americans with disabilities are working, actively preparing for employment, searching for jobs, or seeking more hours. Yet 34.9% of Americans with disabilities ages 18 to 64 are in the workforce, compared with 76% of Americans without disabilities in the same age group. 

People with disabilities face many barriers in securing and retaining employment, but the most difficult barrier is the attitudes people carry regarding people with disabilities. The most pervasive negative attitude is focusing on a person’s disability rather than on an individual’s abilities. For the most part, individuals with disabilities are a largely untapped resource of skills and talents, often possessing both the technical job skills acquired through formal education and training programs and problem-solving skills through the adjustments they make in their daily lives due to their disabilities.

By working alongside employees with disabilities, individuals who are not disabled will become more aware about how to make the workplace and other settings more inclusive and accessible to everyone. Employees with disabilities can also teach their coworkers about creativity and other ways to solve problems or accomplish different tasks.

African Americans

14.8% of Polk County’s African American population is unemployed, compared with 3.9% of the total population. Median earnings in Polk County generally are $35,542, compared with $19,776 for African Americans in Polk County. One workforce challenge is that central Iowa has a higher rate of incarceration among African Americans than the rest of the nation, which creates a huge barrier to employment. Learn more by reading the report by One Economy


The Cost to Central Iowa

When jobs are left unfilled, employers lose productivity and the ability to grow and serve customers. Our economy struggles to grow at the rate it has in the past several years, especially in a job market that is reaching full employment.

Many potential workers live in poverty and are piecing together jobs to get by. Use of food pantries has increased over the past year as central Iowans have struggled to cover all their basic needs, including housing, child care, transportation, and food.  One in three central Iowans do not earn enough to pay for basic needs and save. 

Central Iowa Works is a member of the OpportUNITY plan to fight poverty by working on the barriers that keep central Iowans from achieving financial stability. 

Learn more about OpportUNITY