Iowa’s unemployed are being encouraged to take free skill certification tests and unpaid internships as part of a new state skills-matching initiative.
The Skilled Iowa initiative that took shape this year was explained Thursday to a small group of area employers and job-services specialists at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.
Between 600 and 700 employers and 153 public schools are participating in the Skilled Iowa initiative, Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert said. The department is working with more than 60 companies interested in offering unpaid internships of up to eight weeks to Iowans receiving unemployment.
Employers who join the program must commit to using the state’s Career Readiness Certificate in three key proficiencies as a hiring criteria in at least one job opening. They must also allow the state to use their name in marketing programs.
The Skilled Iowa initiative pays the costs of taking and preparing for the proctored National Career Readiness certificates in three areas: Reading for content, searching for information, and applied math. Based on the proficiency level of the person tested, they can obtain a bronze, silver, gold or platinum certificate.
The certificate system is a nationwide system developed by Iowa City-based ACT and provided to Iowa under a new contract. Kramer said the program includes online study materials that job-seekers can use after obtaining access credentials from the state to prepare for the assessment at any time of day or night.
High schools are being asked to use the certifications to help students determine whether they have the necessary skill levels required for occupations that interest them so that they can prepare.
Kramer said the Skilled Iowa initiative is directed at filling middle-skill jobs that often go vacant in Iowa. They don’t require advanced degrees, but typically require certifications, associate’s degrees or other post-high school education.
The internship program is intended to help job-seekers learn skills on the job, and provide companies with an idea of whether the intern would be a good fit for a vacant position. Kramer said the state will pay the workman’s compensation for the interns, who are limited to a eight-week internship.
Kramer said Iowa Workforce Development does not plan to penalize workers’ on unemployment compensation should they drop out of an internship, and employers would be equally free to eliminate the internship without penalty.
AmeriCorps member Ruth Hart of the Mount View Neighborhood Resource Center in Cedar Rapids found the presentation interesting. She said her main concern about the skills certificate program is the time commitment job-seekers are willing to make to it.
“How many people will follow the process through to the point where they reach that proficiency level?” she wondered aloud.
Hart said the program could be a “game changer” for some job-seekers who can use the certification process to acquire technology skills, which can help them apply for jobs online.
Wahlert said $300,000 in private funds have been raised to help market the program, toward a goal of raising $500,000.