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Call to action

March 05, 2019 at 1:53 PM

 
This past year, the Chamber and ICAD explored the possibility of aligning our missions, functions, and resources to best serve the current and future needs of the business community.  Although we decided not to formally merge, we made a commitment to work more closely together to address the biggest challenges and leverage the greatest opportunities facing our business community. 
 
We learned through several conversations with members and investors that one such challenge is attracting and retaining talent and one such opportunity is leveraging the strong education ecosystem we have here in this community. 
 
Let’s start with the opportunity.
 
Iowa City has a rich history of being known as an education stronghold throughout the country.  We have one of the highest high school graduation rates.  We have a plethora of strong public and private educational institutions, along with a growing proliferation of private and non-profit organizations developing key innovations within the education sector worldwide.  We have world-renowned experts in the field and highly educated and passionate citizens.  
 
From an economic development standpoint, this ecosystem of assets is something we can’t take for granted and something we need to continue to grow and cultivate if we want to continue to have a place on the world stage and attract the talent we need.  Furthermore, if you look at it with a product development lens, education is our unique differentiator. We don’t have an ocean or a mountain or great weather.  What is going to attract people here is our world-class education system and our unique culture that is shaped by it. 
 
Although our top students can compete with the best in the world, it doesn’t tell the whole story of what is happening in our schools in the world of 24/7 technology where we know more artificial intelligence and automation will completely reshape the workplace over the coming years.  The statistics are clear on the increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and behavior issues leading to self-harm. Nationally, teen suicide is at an all-time high. The gap between our highest performers and our students who struggle is getting more pronounced. 
 
At the same time, our students, teachers, parents, post-secondary schools and employers are noticing a change in how many of our young people struggle to adapt to the continuous changes before them.  Which begs the question:  are our education systems designed for the needs of the 21st century?  I think we could all agree that while our schools are good and we have amazing teachers, the basic structure from which our schools were developed is not in line with the realities of our modern day.   
 
What we have is a good to great opportunity, for those of you who have read Jim Collin’s book.  In September 2017, with leadership from the Chamber, the community helped pass the largest general obligation bond in our state’s history, funding facility projects across the district for several years.  Now it is time to focus on supporting and enhancing what goes on inside the walls of our schools around a framing question of: What would it look like if the Iowa City Area had the most innovative approach to education in the nation?  What would this mean for our children?  What would this mean for our employers?  What would this mean for our community?
 
Together, the Chamber and ICAD will be launching a shared initiative to take our education ecosystem to the next level.  It starts with building a guiding coalition to first advocate that our area schools conduct surveys with students and teachers to understand what is working and where change is needed, and secondly, to work with the business and broader communities to create a “profile of a learner” to set the expectations on what skills and abilities our young people need to live lives of purpose and meaning. 

We believe this shared initiative to further cultivate our education ecosystem will also help address our workforce shortage.  ICR IOWA is taking the lead on workforce development at a regional level.  Their ICR Future Coalition (a coalition of educators, employers, and organizations across our seven-county region) recently announced a campaign to create 650 new high school job shadow and internship opportunities by the end of 2020.
 
In support of ICR Future’s campaign, the Chamber is launching its own call to action.  Our data shows that we only have 8 member businesses who are engaging with Workplace Learning Connection to offer job shadows and internships.  We’d like to increase that to 100 by the end of 2020.  Please visit ICRFuture.org for more information, or contact us here at the Chamber. Together we can do great things to ensure our employers are getting the workforce they need to continue to grow here and our kids are developing the skills they need to succeed in life. 
 
- Kim Casko, President and CEO, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce
  Mark Nolte, President, Iowa City Area Development Group