A regional technical education center that would be utilized by all five public schools in Clinton County — Clinton, Camanche, Central DeWitt, Calamus-Wheatland and Northeast — has support from all those districts’ superintendents. 

After discussing the campus with a variety of representatives from the county’s businesses, support also extends into the private sector. 

With that in mind, Eastern Iowa Community College Vice Chancellor and Clinton Community College President Karen Vickers said a bond referendum vote could be held in Sept. 2020 to help finance the center. 

Between now and that vote, though, there is much work to be done, said Clinton Community School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy. He addressed a roomful of business owners and managers last week at Guardian Glass in DeWitt.

“If we build it, what would it look like? If we build it, what would you like to see?” DeLacy asked.

Delacy explained all five public schools in Clinton County are committed, and after touring a similar center in Monticello — the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional Center — he and the other area superintendents are all in. 

“All five superintendents in Clinton County have met, and we are all committed to doing this,” he said. “We are about 1.5 times bigger in terms of the number of students we have [than Jones County], so we do believe we have the student capacity to meet the Jones County model.”

“This is a win-win from our perspective,” said Northeast Superintendent Neil Gray. “We’ve done a lot of footwork looking at the program at Kirkwood, and we’ve come away thinking that’s what we want for our kids.”

The center would be for high school juniors and seniors. DeLacy said the schools, combined, would need to commit a minimum of 200 students to the regional center and Eastern Iowa Community College. Services for working adults would also be included. It would offer a variety of certifications and degrees.

However, before those realities are set into motion, a market study to receive feedback from businesses and educators alike is necessary to fill in many of those blanks.

 

Assessing needs

A 2019 workforce needs assessment for Clinton County released by Iowa Workforce Development assessed area employers in a multitude of industries. That assessment found 30 percent of all applicants lack the necessary hard skills — technical and know-how skills — necessary to qualify for job openings. Skill areas that fell well short of an employer’s expectations include knowledge of computer software, machine operating and project management. 

Employers also found 27 percent of applicants lacked adequate writing skills, and 21.1 percent lacked applied mathematics. 

Also included in the assessment were potential employee’s soft skills, or skills associated with habits, personality or character. Employers perceived 51 percent of applicants lacked motivation, 46 percent lacked dependability, 24 percent lacked the skills necessary to work as a team, and 14.6 percent were not honest. 

Future Ready Iowa — a statewide initiative aimed at bolstering Iowa’s employer base — has a goal of ensuring 70 percent of the state’s workforce has education beyond high school by 2025. 

“That means something like a credential or something of value that connects [a person] to a career,” said Kathy Leggett, Future Ready Iowa policy advisor. 

“Right now, we’re at 58.4 percent [of workers who have education beyond high school],” Leggett explained. “To make up the difference, 127,000 more people need to obtain additional training.”

Currently, Leggett said, 68 percent of the jobs in Iowa require education beyond high school, and “that is similar to trends across the county.”

 “If we’re going to be competitive, we need to get there,” said Bill Decker, Chief Administrator of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency that includes Clinton County. 

“We need [workers] to stay here,” said Daniel Marvin, Dean of Concurrent Enrollment and CTE Programming at EICC. “That’s why it matters here.”

Future flexibility

As input from businesses is received, there are some sure-fire features that the regional tech center must have, DeLacy said. 

“We all need some flexible space to make adjustments,” he said. “But I also think if you say auto diesel is really important, that’s not going to need flexible space. That space is going to be auto diesel. So, as we talk though, we’ll communicate.”

As the job market ebbs and flows, and the needs of employers change, DeLacy said it’s important to have a campus that reflects that dynamic.

“We will need to change programming, because that’s what’s happening in other parts of the state,” DeLacy said. “If we end up picking out 8-10 [programs], I’m guessing 5-10 years from now three or four of those may have changed. One of the things we hear today is how fast things change.”