Knowledge jobs sought, but go wanting in Iowa

Business leader, government working to fix issue

George Ford
Published: March 9 2014 | 6:00 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:19 am in

"On any given day," Dawn Ainger said, "we have between 5 and 10 openings that we could fill if we could find the people."

Ainger is president and CEO of Genova Technologies in Cedar Rapids,which creates custom software applications for the avionics, health care, defense, transportation and communication industries. The openings she mentioned refer to what are called knowledge jobs.

"The No. 1 concern of people within the Technology Association of Iowa is making sure we can find the workers needed to get the work done," she continued. "While that's a problem in Iowa and the nation, we also need to create more knowledge jobs because they will continue to be the highly paid, highly sought-after jobs for our work force."

The 2014 Iowa Competitiveness Survey compiled by the Iowa Business Council calls for attracting new or expanding existing careers in knowledge jobs.

The term "knowledge job" was coined in 1959 by management consultant Peter Drucker in his book "Landmarks of Tomorrow" to describe someone who works primarily with information or who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace.

Job titles for knowledge workers cover a wide range — architects, doctors, engineers, inventors, lawyers, public accountants, scientists, software engineers and teachers because they "think for a living." Knowledge work is different from other forms of employment  because it involves non-routine problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent and creative thinking.

"That really sounds like what we do," said Kevin Monson, president and principle of Neumann-Monson Architects in Iowa City. "The profession is changing, and the technologies that we use are changing.

"Certainly it's a great mix of science and art, but an architect's imagination is not going to be replaced by a computer. It's a skill set that is very unique."

Iowa has an estimated 830 architects, according to the American Institute of Architects's Iowa chapter. While the 2008 recession eliminated up to 50 percent of the jobs for architects in major U.S. cities, Monson said Iowa was able to weather the downturn and is fairly balanced in terms of candidates to fill open positions.

"Architecture is one of those professions that really feels the economy," Monson noted. "When the economy goes down, we have a lot of clients who put their projects on hold or cancelled. It wreaks havoc with job security.

"I think we were able to save most of our jobs in Iowa, but we did feel the ouch."


For more than 30 years,  Jim's Instrument Manufacturing in Iowa City, has been designing and producing highly precise, machined plastic components for medical and industrial purposes. Owner Jim Rogers has collaborated with doctors around the world to create devices used in research and eye surgery.

Rogers is known for his ability to visualize an intricate medical instrument before he begins designing and manufacturing it. He developed and patented the Iowa Penetrating Keratoplasty Trephination Press (Iowa PK Press) for cutting a donor's cornea before transplanting it into a recipient's eye.

The device is distributed by a number of ophthalmic instrument suppliers worldwide.

Collaboration also is key for scientists at DuPont Industrial Biosciences. They work with customers to create new products and refine manufacturing processes at the company's Applied Innovation Centers throughout the world, including a facility in Cedar Rapids that employs about 20 scientists.

"We bring together diverse pools of talent with local experts and teams from our corporate headquarters and research facilities," said Wendy Rosen, DuPont Industrial Biosciences senior communications manager. "Collaboration allows us to come up with creative solutions to some of the world's most vexing problems."

Doctors at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine are performing research that is anything but routine on a daily basis. The same can be said for doctors examining  patients, relaying on tests, personal knowledge and expertise to make an appropriate diagnosis.

Knowledge jobs also include those in advanced manufacturing, employed by Alpla, Centro, Civco Medical Instruments, General Mills, Integrated DNA Technologies, International Automotive Components, Kinze Manufacturing, Loparex, Pella Corp., PepsiCo Quaker, Procter & Gamble, Rockwell Collins, Skyworks, Whirlpool  and other Eastern Iowa employers.

The Iowa Business Council pointed out in its latest competitiveness survey that knowledge jobs are important to the state and individual communities because they significantly influence measures such as  per capita income and gross state product. From a national ranking of 29th nationally for knowledge jobs in 2010, Iowa slipped to 32nd in 2012.

Ainger said someone considering a knowledge job in Iowa also wants to know that similar opportunities exist nearby should they need to find a new position.

"If someone moves to Chicago and they don't like their job, there's another one down the street," Ainger said. "They don't have to move their family again.

"They have concerns that if they move to Cedar Rapids or Des Moines, they would have to sell their house and move their family again. I don't think many people outside of Iowa understand the opportunities available here in the field of  their expertise.

"We need to do a better job of promoting the opportunities in Iowa so people feel better about moving here."

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