Building the Next Generation Workforce

Iowa has jobs. What we need is the interest of middle school and high school students to be open to pursuing skilled job opportunities. Over the course of two weeks in May, I chauffeured a $75,000 heavy-equipment simulator to schools in the Des Moines metro area with the goal of bringing “the jobs” to students.

Nationwide, statistics show that 60-70 percent of chronic student disengagement occurs during the middle school years. In high school, as many as 40-60 percent of youth are disengaged. These concerning statistics make it vitally important for Iowa’s employers to engage with and explore different career opportunities with students during these formative years.

Iowa’s employers – and many across the country – have sounded the alarm bells about an increasing skilled worker shortage. And, rightly so. Well-known entrepreneur and Dirty Jobs TV host, Mike Rowe, says there are 6.2 million jobs and a whopping 75 percent of those require training but not a college degree. This means good-paying jobs with strong benefits are at the doorstep of high school graduates. It’s our job as employers to show students how to open those doors and have viable careers in a skilled trade.

More than ever before, young people are enticed by visual and animated learning and experiences. Gone are the days when a simulator’s sole purpose in a classroom was to providing driving lessons. Today’s technology allows companies like mine to take a Caterpillar hydraulic excavator to the students. Complete with an interface that mimics wildly popular video gaming technology, we safely put them in the seat of a high-powered piece of equipment. The technology speaks to kids in a way that a brochure or presentation can’t compete.

Successful skilled labor employees gain education and training beyond high school without needing to pursue a four-year college degree. Already accounting for more than 50 percent of the jobs in Iowa, skilled trade positions are in high demand as more of the baby boomer generation retires and companies – such as McAninch Corporation – seek hardworking and talented individuals to replace them. Skilled trade jobs fill an essential role for people wanting to work right out of high school while earning good, living income wages and having opportunities for advancement.

At McAninch, skilled trade jobs are the heartbeat of our organization and include equipment operators, laborers, truck drivers, mechanics and welders. With approximately 275 employees, McAninch works on projects of all sizes in both the public and private sectors. We’ve been around for more than 50 years, and we are looking ahead 50 years with the next generation of a team of employees.

Over the next 15 years, McAninch’s workforce will be changing with numerous foremen becoming retirement eligible. In 2018 alone, we will hire nearly 15 high school graduates and provide extensive on-the-job training for those who are eager and willing to learn trade skills.

It’s no secret that many industries are amid having a significant portion of their skilled workforce retire each year. It’s imperative we expose our young people to the abundance of career opportunities existing right here in Iowa. Iowa – and Des Moines — have been the recipient of recent high praise and accolades for our thriving business climate and quality of life. Let’s keep that trend going by filling jobs within this critical sector of the workforce.

Dave Stitz, CPA, is the Vice President of Finance for McAninch Corporation, which is nationally recognized as one of the most technologically advanced earthmoving contractors.