Member Spotlight: Kirkwood Community College
A Vision to Bridge the Skills Gap
Jones County Regional Center
As Iowa's economy slowly recovers and more local employers start hiring, the gap between the state's workforce and employer needs is becoming increasingly evident.
According to a report by Iowa Workforce Development (2012), roughly 50 percent of Iowa's available jobs and growing career areas are considered middle skill, requiring more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree. However, 66 percent of Iowa's unemployed or underemployed have no recognized educational credentials past high school. The same study highlights worker shortages stretching far beyond the current workforce, meaning the coming generation must seek additional training in order to keep pace with employer demand.
In 2009, Kirkwood Community College took a visionary step toward closing this gap by building the Jones County Regional Center, which quickly became a statewide model for collaborative education. Forged by a partnership between Kirkwood, area industry, and eight local K-12 school districts, the Jones County Regional Center is a state-of-the-art facility featuring hands-on welding, auto repair, and construction labs, as well as sought after classes in health care, science, technology, and liberal arts topics. These labs are used by high school students, traditional-age college students, and adults seeking retraining or certification.
The overwhelming success of the Jones County Regional Center led the college to plan three additional regional centers to accommodate its mostly rural seven-county service area. The Linn County Regional Center opens fall 2013, the Washington County Regional Center opens fall 2014, and the Johnson County Regional Center opens in 2015.
Kirkwood’s industry partners provided thoughtful input for the classes offered at each location. With their help, training programs will directly feed employment needs of specific regions. Students who study at any of Kirkwood's regional centers can take hands-on classes in advanced manufacturing, welding, graphic design, energy/industrial maintenance, patient care/CNA, and arts and sciences transfer courses, just to name a few. This is in concert with all the traditional programming Kirkwood has always brought to the community.
Kirkwood's regional centers most deeply impact concurrent enrollment opportunities for high school students. K-12 schools that partner with Kirkwood in the regional center endeavor benefit by being able to provide students with hands-on training they potentially could not provide individually. Many of Kirkwood's concurrent enrollment programs also lead to industry-recognized certifications, meaning students can graduate high school with free, transferable college credits and a certificate in a trade.
Once the regional centers open, Kirkwood will have 13 facilities in eastern Iowa devoted to both college credit classes and non-credit continuing education and training.
Click here to learn more about Kirkwood Community College’s Regional Centers.
Iowa Workforce Development. (2012, May). Middle-Skills Jobs in Iowa. Retrieved from http://www.iowaworkforce.org/imsj2012.pdf