Working towards a ‘Future Ready’ Iowa: Different paths lead to success
Key education, workforce, industry and community stakeholders came together this week to better align services through an integrated and efficient workforce delivery system during Iowa’s first joint Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) conference.
Sponsored by WIOA core partners – Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Community Colleges, Vocational Rehabilitation and the Iowa Department for the Blind, the “One Door Many Paths” conference is based on the idea of integration, collaboration and alignment. The goal is two-fold – Iowans have access to high-quality education, training, and work-readiness resources, and employers have access to advanced and skilled future-ready workers.
Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014, WIOA supersedes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and requires states to strategically align workforce development services so that job seekers acquire skills and credentials that meet employers’ needs.
Iowa’s model, advanced by Iowa’s Unified State Plan for implementation of WIOA, incorporates and aligns programs from each core partner as well as from those under the purview of the Iowa’s departments of Human Services, Aging and Corrections. The state plan and corresponding regional plans lay the foundation for an integrated workforce development system. Each agency and partner will work collaboratively to remove and reduce barriers for all Iowans with a focus on intensive services for those individuals facing the biggest obstacles in securing and maintaining employment.
“Every job seeker has a unique story and it takes flexibility and collaboration across systems to better address their needs,” said Jeremy Varner, Iowa Department of Education’s division administrator for the division of community colleges and workforce preparation. “Working with other key partners and stakeholders in both the public and private sector, the goal is to increase the self-sufficiency of Iowans, meet the skill requirements of employers and ultimately enhance the productivity and competitiveness of our state. A collective effort is key to reaching this goal.”
Some Iowans have shared their stories – the challenges they faced and the resources they received – on their paths to success:
Carlos Gonzalez Monterroso
Originally from “the eternal spring” country of Guatemala, Carlos Gonzalez Monterroso and his family sought political asylum in the United States around 2010. New to the United States, he had one important goal in mind – to succeed.
For five years, Carlos supported his family as a factory worker. When the plant closed he didn’t anticipate it would be so hard to find work.
“I never realized how important it was to have a high school diploma until the plant where I was working closed their doors in the fall of 2015,” Carlos said. “Every single job where I was applying required a high school diploma.”
The need for a good job prompted Carlos to enroll in Iowa Valley Continuing Education classes at Ellsworth Community College. After a few months of hard work and persistence, Carlos proudly earned his high school equivalency diploma.
“I want to encourage all the people who don’t have this diploma to think about getting it,” Carlos said. “Make the decision, don’t wait too long!”
Daniel R. Sutherland
High school had been a struggle for Daniel Sutherland. Learning disabilities made school work a challenge. Frustrated, he ultimately decided to drop out when he was just 17 years old. For the next five years, Daniel floated through life fearing the future and regretting the past.
“I feared failing if I ever went back,” Daniel said. “I felt like I might not be good enough or smart enough to make it.”
Eventually, Daniel found the courage to work toward his high school equivalency at Iowa Lakes Community College in Spirit Lake. Finding the campus environment welcoming and the staff friendly, Daniel worked hard with his instructor daily, one on one, until the concepts started to make sense. Over the course of several months, the hours in boot camp (a week-long 44-hour class focusing on math and writing) and in the success centers started to pay off.
“Knowing that I would have accommodations in place to help me pass the practice and official tests boosted my self-confidence,” Daniel said. “After I passed the first HiSET test with a score that indicated college readiness, I actually started believing in myself and my ability to finish the program.”
After months of pretests, practice tests, studying, and taking the official HiSET tests, Daniel breathed a sigh of relief when he was told he would be graduating with his high school equivalency diploma.
“It meant I was not worthless; even though I struggle with learning, I can succeed when I put forth the necessary effort to work with instructors who care enough to meet my learning needs,” Daniel said. “The sky is the limit; never again will I let my fear of failing stop my success.”
Rosa Azucena Elivar
Rosa Azucena Elivar came to Iowa 20 years ago from Mexico with only a sixth-grade education. As her children grew older, Rosa realized how little she could help them with their homework and saw the need to further her education.
“I wanted to show them — if I can do it, you can do it, too,” Rosa said.
She enrolled in North Iowa Area Community College’s Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) program as a pre-HSED (high school equivalency diploma) student. After working hard and studying while raising her family, Rosa finally earned her high school equivalency diploma this past January.
Even though the work was hard and Rosa was nervous about taking tests, she didn’t give up. She relied on help from her instructors and others in the AEL program.
“If I didn’t understand something, they always tried to explain in other ways,” Rosa said. “I am so grateful for the help.”
Debra LaFollette dropped out of high school back in 1981, during her senior year. Now at 53 years old, she decided to earn her high school equivalency diploma through Southwestern Community College’s adult education program in Red Oak.
“My mom passed away 18 years ago. This is one of the things I promised her I would do, and I have done it,” Debra said. “Another factor was that my daughter will graduate high school in 2017. I felt that I needed to set an example that it’s never too late to reach your goals.”
It has been said doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. Debra now realizes that it was doubt that held her back all these years. Now with her high school equivalency under her belt, Debra plans to continue learning by enrolling in college classes.
“As I continue my journey in learning, I know my mom will be there with me every step of the way, along with my daughter and husband,” Debra said. “A special thank you to my HiSET instructor, Kathy Walker, who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.”