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NOTEBOOK: National Skills Coalition seeks to ramp up Iowa business connections


The leader of a national business group focused on closing the skills gap for American workers says it’s frustrating that funding more skills training doesn’t seem to be a top issue for any presidential candidate, despite overwhelming bipartisan support by voters. 

During a visit to Des Moines last week, Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Skills Coalition, took part in an Issues Forum panel discussion hosted by Catch Des Moines as part of its Iowa Caucus Consortium. Christina Trombley, executive director of Online Education at Drake University and Tej Dhawan, chief data officer at Principal, were also on the panel.  

“I think what we aren’t doing very well is recognizing there are multiple paths” for education and training of workers, Van KIeunen said. “That’s a challenge that government will definitely have to be a part of, but so will businesses. … If we organize business efforts by industry and by sector, it can magnify the impact that individual companies are having” in their skills training efforts. 

The nonprofit coalition earlier this year launched an information campaign, “Voices for Skills,” to promote the need for skilled workers and to spotlight the support already out there for greater investment in skills training. The nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization is funded through members, foundations, businesses and individual donors. 

Providing greater skills training has been a focus in Iowa through the Future Ready Iowa initiative championed by Gov. Kim Reynolds and her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad.

According to a statewide online survey conducted early this year of more than 500 likely 2020 general election voters in Iowa, 92% of respondents (including 95% of Democrats, 93% of Republicans and 77% of Independents) said they supported increasing investment in skills training. 

Additionally, 76% of business leaders in the survey agreed that greater investment in skills training would help their business — which made it nearly as helpful as reducing regulations (82%) and cutting taxes (87%). The coalition is currently conducting an updated survey in Iowa, the results of which are expected out by mid-January. To see a summary of the current survey, click here

On Jan. 7, leaders of the coalition’s Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships arm will be in Des Moines for a CEO Roundtable event. Those leaders include Michael Tamasi, CEO of AccuRounds, a Massachusetts-based precision manufacturer and chair of Business Leaders United, with Traci Tapani and Mike Kenig, two other business leaders and BLU executive committee members. Event details are still being finalized; to find more information on the event when it’s posted

Business Leaders United’s policy principles can be found at this link.

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