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Local education officials support new national standards planned for technical education

BY DEREK KELLISON | APRIL 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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The federal government plans to end job outsourcing, and Iowa officials are working on the effort.

A blueprint released April 19 to renew the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 plans to focus on the improvement of technical education. The law originally provided funding and support for postsecondary career and technical education for schools that required essential vocational courses.

Iowa's career and technical education needs to continue to improve, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said in an April 19 press release.

"I continually hear from employers that despite the unacceptable unemployment rate, they can't find people with the skills they need," he said in the release. "We should continue to focus on preparing students to secure good jobs and to help grow our economy."

According to a recent report from Iowa Workforce Development, 49 percent of Iowa jobs are classified as "middle-skilled," and only 33 percent of these jobs are filled by workers with the required skills.

The blueprint proposes four key strategies to improve career and technical education success, with a focus of getting educational institutions and businesses working together to provide more technical degrees to students.

"There's nothing that's being proposed that we're not already doing," said Steve Ovel, Kirkwood Community College executive director of governmental relations. "I think Iowa has been ahead of the curve for a while."

Today's industry jobs require workers to obtain some level of education to obtain certain skills, he said.

"For example, a wind-turbine technician can't just walk [up to] the machine and start working," he said. "They have to have certificates that show they have training."

Iowa's 15 community colleges are working together to create career training grants that would soon address certification and job issues, Ovel said.

Despite efforts at postsecondary levels, former Iowa City School District parent Maria Conzemius said there should be more emphasis on industry careers at the high-school level.

"If we can't catch students when they're interested, they may drop out or go where the programs are offered," she said, citing personal experience.

Ovel said ties among community colleges and high schools are important in providing students opportunities to learn job-related skills. Kirkwood is developing a regional academy for courses in Johnson County schools.

School Board member Karla Cook said this effort and technical courses currently offered through Kirkwood to Iowa City schools are necessary.

"It's an important career opportunity for a lot of students," she said. "And I'm glad we're able to provide courses through Kirkwood that fill in courses we're unable to provide at the high-school level."

Danny Homan, the Iowa American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees -president, said the emphasis on technical degrees is what the workforce needs.

"I would like to see anything that can help out students," he said. "We need to provide the needed supplies to universities and colleges to help kids be what they want to be."


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