Public/private partnerships are essential piece in overcoming the workforce shortage

The baby boomer exit from the workforce has been expected for the past 10 years with an estimated two million leaving the workforce per year — but no one could have predicted the United States going into a pandemic, escalating numbers to three million baby boomers leaving in 2020 and approximately 11 million employees leaving for various reasons.

Experts predicted that by 2025, most of the boomers, many among the highest educated employees, would retire and take with them a wealth of knowledge as they vacated higher level professional and technical positions. According to Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce data, by 2031, 40% of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree and the remainder two years of education, apprenticeships or certificates.

With looming skills shortages and job openings as well as Iowa’s unemployment rate remaining low at 2.6%, many local businesses need skilled employees but are not able to hire enough qualified people to fill positions. Additionally, individuals with a desire to advance their skills and education face barriers to training and full-time employment, such as transportation, housing and affordable childcare.

One solution is to enhance partnerships between colleges and universities, businesses, workforce agencies and local organizations in northeast Iowa to support the needs of our economy. These partnerships can assist businesses in focusing their attention on the untapped labor market in the following key areas:

• Individuals who are not employed (e.g. females with young children who are not working, people with disabilities, retired workers, high school graduates). Programs like Opportunity Dubuque/Career Pathway Certificates can assist individuals with short-term training, and earn and learn opportunities can get people back to work in high-demand occupations.

• Employed individuals (e.g. people working in other states that might be persuaded to work in Iowa). Greater Dubuque Development Corp. is working to attract and recruit talent to Iowa through a variety of services including the Big Life/Small City campaign and You Can Be Great Here, along with multiple economic groups promoting our communities. Top local employers are focusing on retention to build a strong culture of people and working with colleges to assist with training.

• Process improvements (reducing the need to hire more workers by getting more output from existing workers). Colleges can provide customized training solutions for businesses to upskill and train employees in LEAN and continuous quality improvement practices.

• Automation (reducing the need to hire more workers by providing automation support to existing workers). Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service and colleges can work with businesses to implement automation into the workplace as part of the state’s Manufacturing 4.0 initiative.

• K-16 students (e.g. apprenticeships/career pathway certificates/opportunity Dubuque). Colleges and partner agencies can connect businesses with area students to engage with them through career and technical education programs in the schools, such as work-based learning programs that include job shadows, tours and work experience; registered apprenticeships and career academies.

The above points offer promising solutions and are reinforced though the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) which advises employees in human resource positions to look at how they can get into these untapped markets and reinvent their recruitment strategies with the following eight steps: Identify overlooked talent pools, refocus your recruitment model, revise your hiring procedures, train your hiring teams, create or expand training programs, network with resources in your community, understand when and how to use foreign talent, and identify available tax credits. (

The workforce shortage is a nationwide problem and cannot be solved by one person or one organization alone. Therefore, it is essential that communities work together through private and public partnerships to find and create workforce solutions. These solutions are possible by pooling resources between organizations to expand reach and effectiveness to build a strong, skilled workforce for tomorrow and for generations to come.