Wahlert touts Skilled Iowa work program

A new statewide program offers Iowans another way to show prospective employers that they have some fundamental skills that can be applied on the job.

The National Career Readiness Certificate and internships for those now collecting unemployment benefits are the major components of the initiative called Skilled Iowa, according to Teresa Wahlert, director of Iowa Workforce Development.

”No other state has really put this together,” Wahlert said Tuesday during a visit to Fort Dodge, where she discussed Skilled Iowa with the editorial board of The Messenger.

She said the program’s statewide reach and its internships make it different from any other worker training effort conducted in the past.

She said an effort is underway to raise $500,000 in private donations to pay for marketing the program, which started in June 2012.

By getting involved in assessing worker skills and setting up internships, Wahlert said, Iowa Workforce Development is essentially taking on the role of a human resources department for small businesses that don’t have one. The agency has never before marketed something to businesses, she added.

Wahlert said Iowa Workforce Development is trying to ”reinvent its entire pysche.”

Two things point to the need for Skilled Iowa, according to Wahlert. They are, she said, an unemployment rate that’s as high as 10.9 percent in at least one Iowa county, and advertisements posted by businesses seeking workers. She said that shows that the state has workers and available positions, but the two don’t match. A skills gap is at the heart of the problem, she added.

”There’s this gap between the kind of skills that people have when they get out of school, whatever their level of schooling is, and the requirements that businesses have,” Wahlert said.

The National Career Readiness Certificate program tests an individual’s prowess in applied mathematics, reading for content and locating information. The certificate tests take about two hours and are free for Iowa residents.

Test results are posted in terms of precious metals. A bronze score is the lowest, followed by silver, gold and the highest score, platinum.

Wahlert said those who take the tests are encouraged to put the results on their resumes. Businesses who join the Skilled Iowa program agree to give priority to considering prospective employees who have completed the tests, she said. Statewide, 3,996 employers, including 55 in Webster County, are members of the program.

The tests are offered at schools, community colleges and Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Internships are being offered to people collecting unemployement benefits as part of Skilled Iowa. Wahlert said the internships can last up to eight weeks. During that time, the intern collects unemployment benefits and is not paid by the company.

Wahlert described the internship program as ”an opportunity for business and people to get associated with businesses who have job openings, who want to see a certain type of individual in a certain type of job.”