Not Just Talk

Future Ready Iowa demonstrates that Iowa is doing more than talking about the skills gap.

It’s no surprise that Mark Twain, a Midwesterner, was the first to say, “Don’t just sit there and worry. Do something.” The celebrated author was not one to sit back and keep his mouth shut.

That same attitude typifies the construction industry in Iowa. Faced with a shortage of skilled workers, many construction leaders in Iowa stepped up to do something about it. In the few years since BUILD Des Moines published its first story on the skills gap, a number of ambitious projects have been established to address that need, from the impressive construction trades program at Central Campus to the Skilled Trades Alliance, which brought Mike Rowe to Des Moines last fall.

Those grassroots efforts also have the backing of government leaders who have set some ambitious goals of their own.

Future Ready Iowa is a statewide initiative to align education and the workforce, along with the community,” says Kathy Leggett of Iowa Workforce Development. Future Ready Iowa’s goal is to build Iowa’s talent pipeline, focusing specifically on high-demand jobs.

According to Cory Kelly of Iowa Workforce Development, “By 2025, it’s estimated that 68% of jobs will demand training or education beyond high school. Our goal is to equip 70% of Iowa’s workforce with that education or training by then.”

The Future Ready Iowa Initiative put together a plan to host summits across the state, creating a program that Kelly says is unique in the U.S.

“Our goal is to change the conversation about opportunities beyond high school,” explains Leggett. “We want to present all of those as great options to students and workers.”

The first Future Ready Iowa Summit of the year, held in April in Des Moines, brought together students, educators, and industry professionals to gain a better understanding of the problems facing each of those groups. “That event gave students and educators an opportunity to engage with state and national leaders to identify existing solutions,” Leggett says. “And then students had the opportunity to participate in some student-led projects and work-based demonstrations.”

In addition to that initial, statewide event, Future Ready Iowa Initiative has assisted communities across the state in planning a host of regional events throughout the year. Leggett says, “The regional events are coordinated locally based on what each community felt they needed to share. Future Ready Iowa simply asks that the event include an overview from Future Ready Iowa, a discussion of how to address underrepresented populations, and time to work on the issues raised throughout the summit.”

The objective, say Kelly and Leggett, is for these regional events to be more than discussions of the problems and to result in solutions. “We want these events to identify what’s available in those regions now and where the gaps are,” Leggett explains.

The intent is to compile a statewide map that indicates the situation in each area—existing opportunities and programs, needs, and projects in the works. This information would allow community leaders, educators, and employers to more easily identify the gaps and strategically plan to meet those needs.

Future Ready Iowa has hosted four regional summits so far this year; more are scheduled in the next few months. In mid-September, the 18th event was announced, scheduled for October 30 in Ottumwa.

Those interested in participating can view the list of events and register online here. The Des Moines event, scheduled for October 19, still had openings as of press time. “We encourage individuals, businesses, and communities to contact us if they want to get involved,” Leggett says.

Future Ready Iowa has a variety of resources available to students, independent companies, and community leaders. One effort that has been a high priority is apprenticeship programs. Future Ready Iowa offers a number of grants to help grow apprenticeship programs throughout the state.

Future Ready Iowa Goals

The Future Ready Iowa Alliance was created in 2016 after Iowa received a National Governors Association grant. Some of the Alliance’s goals:

  • Progress toward reducing the ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial achievement gaps in kindergarten through 12th grade and increasing equity in postsecondary enrollment.
  • Progress toward increasing the percent of traditional-age students and adult learners who earn postsecondary degrees, certificates, or other quality credentials.
  • Progress toward how well degrees, certificates, and other credentials awarded by Iowa postsecondary institutions align with high-demand job needs and job-placement rates.

Future Ready Iowa Summits

  • Ames
    October 9 (sold out)
  • Cedar Valley
    November 13
  • Centerville
    October 10
  • Creston
    October 25
  • Des Moines
    October 19
  • Iowa City-Cedar Rapids
    November 13
  • Ottumwa
    October 30
  • Sioux City
    October 9
  • Elkader
    October 26
To learn more about these events and about other resources from Future Ready Iowa, visit