Spreading the Message

Iowa Skilled Trades event highlights educational options.

A little more than a year ago, the Skilled Trades Alliance was founded in an effort to partner business and education entities and their unified goal of training the next generation of skilled tradespeople.

Later this month the alliance is holding a dinner and fund-raising event to promote that effort. And the biggest name in skilled—or not-so-skilled—labor is going to help.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame will be the closing speaker at the September 28 event.

“He gets asked to speak at all kinds of events,” says organizer Brandon Patterson of ReMax Real Estate Concepts. “But he’s chosen to focus on events that really fit his message. So we were thrilled when he recognized this event is a perfect fit.”

According to Patterson, discussions about a Skilled Trades Academy awareness program began last winter, after Des Moines-area members of the Home Builders Association (HBA) realized that too many individuals in the local construction industry weren’t even aware the Skilled Trades Alliance existed.

“The HBA and many of its members have donated a lot of money and equipment to the Skilled Trades program at Central Campus, and too many of our members had no idea what it was. I just realized we needed to educate our own people, not just young people who might be interested in the program,” Patterson says.

Tim Ruth of McCreedy-Ruth Construction and president of the HBA of Iowa says, “We should have done something like this even sooner. The labor situation isn’t getting any better, and those of us in the trades should be on the front lines of the effort to address that.”

Patterson and Ruth are both quick to note that the labor shortage and the educational efforts are both statewide concerns, not just in central Iowa. That’s why the September 28 event is open to industry personnel and the public.

“We have groups coming from across the state,” Patterson says. “We even have a group from Nebraska coming who are interested to see what we’re doing here with the educational partnerships in Des Moines and in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area.”

Des Moines Schools’ Central Campus Director, Aiddy Phomvisay, is eager to share the excitement the Central Campus program has created. “We’re starting our second year, and we already have 120 students enrolled,” he explains. “This program just shows the impact it can have when leaders in business and education work together to support a program that benefits everyone.”

Phomvisay says the Central Campus Skilled Trades Academy (which currently offers pre-apprenticeship education in computer-aided design technology, home building, painting and drywall, and welding) places young people alongside experienced professionals to truly learn the trade.

Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids has cultivated its own trade program, partnering directly with all high school industrial technology teachers in the surrounding communities to design a consistent curriculum and to prepare high school students for Kirkwood’s trade programs.

“Kirkwood is offering a dual-credit class next summer where high school students can earn high school and college credit while building a home for special-needs adults,” explains Ruth. “They’ve completed past projects that have won national recognition.”

Programs like these will benefit from the September event in multiple ways. In addition to raising awareness about the Skilled Trades Alliance and the ways groups across the state are addressing the education gap, the evening will also serve as a fund-raiser and an opportunity to recognize students and educators involved in these programs.

“Each table includes two seats donated to students or educators, who get to attend for free” Patterson explains. “In addition, all proceeds raised will be donated to apprentice and vocational education program scholarships.”

Since the event was announced, businesses and organizations across the state—and beyond—have gotten behind the effort, with more than half the seats sold by early August. And numerous sponsors have come on board to help fund the program. That means more money can go to support the scholarships.

Jeremy Varner of the Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Community Colleges says, “We hope to build awareness of the rewarding careers in high-demand fields. The jobs being created today require higher skill levels than in the past, and that means all students need to leave our high schools ready to succeed in both college and careers. Events such as this, where students can interact with employers, help them to see all the different career options.”

Kevin Kruse, director of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors of Iowa, says his organization wanted to sponsor the event for many of those same reasons. “Our hope is that we are able to expose more and more students to the opportunities available to them by completing an apprenticeship program and obtaining their state license. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that our industry will need approximately 138,200 new workers by 2022. With apprenticeship classes and training, students are working full-time, earning a salary, and can complete the program with little or no debt.”

That’s the message Mike Rowe has been preaching for years: Education is important; but “education” doesn’t have to mean a traditional four-year college and tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

Kruse says, “I’ve seen Mike Rowe on television and the Internet, and I think the exposure that he will bring to all these opportunities will be immense. Hopefully, all the trades will be able to capitalize on that message.”

Phomvisay says, “Our program wouldn’t exist if people like Gary Scrutchfield of Lumbermans Drywall and Roofing hadn’t been plugging away at the industry and the schools for years. The Skilled Trades Academy is proof that public and private can work together as a community to train people for jobs that change lives and improve the economy.”

“Know your options,” Patterson sums up. “That’s what we want to offer with this event.”

Be Part of the Change

It’s not too late to get a seat at the table for this unique event.

  • Thursday, September 28
  • Iowa Events Center
  • 730 3rd Street, Des Moines
  • 4:00 p.m. Doors Open
  • 4:00–6:00 p.m. Networking, Exhibitors Hall
  • 6:00–8:00 p.m. Dinner, Program


  • Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds
  • Financial Literacy Expert Adam Carroll, cocreator of the
  • documentary Broke, Busted & Disgusted
  • Spokesperson and TV host Mike Rowe
  • $1,200 per table (10 seats, 2 seats donated to students/educators)
  • $150 per single seat

To purchase seats or learn more about the event, contact:

Mike Rowe
mikeroweWORKS Foundation

Best known as the “dirtiest man on TV,” a title he earned on the hit TV series Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe has traversed all 50 states, completed 300 different jobs, and transformed cable television into a landscape of swamps, sewers, and coal mines. Most recently, Mike launched The Way I Heard It, a weekly 5-minute podcast of short mysteries for the curious mind with a short attention span.

Mike is also CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity that provides scholarships to people training for skilled jobs that are in demand. Through its scholarship programs, the foundation has granted or helped facilitate the granting of more than $4 million in technical and/or vocational education for trade schools across the country.

In his spare time Mike keeps a lively conversation with nearly 5 million Facebook friends, where he talks about everything from the musings of his persnickety terrier named Freddy to the merits and pitfalls of blind patriotism.