Businesses Should Step Up Role in Apprenticeship Programs, Report Says

Businesses said in a Kirkwood Community College survey that they struggle with a small labor pool and a lack of qualified candidates, mirroring a national trend.
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  • Businesses were concerned about a lack of qualified job candidates, according to a Kirkwood Community College survey.
  • Businesses also struggled with a general lack of applicants and poor retention, according to the survey.
  • Kirkwood Community College recommended that businesses take on a more active role in developing apprenticeship programs with community colleges and other local institutions.

Few qualified job candidates, a small labor pool, and poor retention rates are key struggles for businesses, according to a recent report by Iowa's Kirkwood Community College.

The Cedar Rapids-based community college surveyed businesses throughout the region in a bid to better understand workforce development and policy trends. And it found that many respondents said that many job candidates had a "lack of soft skills, like work ethic and communication skills."

"These are difficult times for Iowa's employers," Kirkwood Community College President Lori Sundberg said in the report. "The workforce challenges brought on by the ripple effects of the pandemic are still present, as employers continue to struggle to fill crucial roles in their organizations. In many cases, the overall number of applicants for positions has dwindled to previously unthinkable levels. Additionally, there is a substantial absence of qualified individuals available to fill the needs of employers desperate to find the right people."

The struggle to find qualified candidates went hand-in-hand with a continuing labor shortage, with some open positions going without applications, according to the report. Retaining employees after hiring was also a common issue for businesses, the report reads.

"Many respondents articulated that they struggle to recruit and retain employees," the report reads. "Competition and ability to provide competitive wages were mentioned frequently within

the context of recruitment. One respondent advised that 'other larger companies can

afford to pay more,' and another respondent said that 'wage competitiveness' made it difficult to hire new employees."

One way to address workforce issues, the report notes, is for businesses to step up their partnerships with community colleges for training programs.

The report recommends that businesses "take a more active role in directing training, education and apprenticeship programs" to ensure that education and workforce training programs are applicable to the job market.

Employers' workforce concerns in the Kirkwood Community College report are similar to those in a recent national survey by Harvard Business School and the American Association of Community Colleges.

That survey found that employers were mixed on whether community colleges were producing workforce-ready graduates and that educators wanted more collaboration from businesses on job-training programs.

Only 7% of community colleges surveyed in the Harvard Business School report gave employers an "A" grade on collaboration, BestColleges previously reported, while 28% of businesses gave themselves an "A" grade.

"The survey reveals that employers are yet to perceive the magnitude of the opportunity of partnering with community colleges," the Harvard Business School report read.

"When asked the fundamental question on how important it was for employers and community colleges to partner to produce a work-ready workforce, the responses were starkly different. Nearly all the community college leaders saw collaboration as a pressing priority; far fewer employers reported the same sense of urgency."

Employers and government officials have looked to community colleges in recent years in a bid to close the national skills gap and train workers in emerging fields.

Community and technical colleges in some states have also seen a recent enrollment increase: In Wisconsin, enrollment at technical colleges increased by 10.3% during the 2021-2022 academic year after falling sharply earlier in the pandemic, BestColleges previously reported.

Career and technical education programs like construction and other skilled trades saw enrollment increases nationwide this spring, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Many of those fields have a large skills gap, BestColleges previously reported.