Forming an alliance to advance Iowa’s industries and its youth

Published by Parisa Ostovari

Every problem presents an opportunity to discover a solution. Maybe the issue requires putting in little extra work. Or, maybe, solving it means going back to the drawing board entirely and completely adjusting your approach. 

We have a problem here in Iowa. Actually, this problem is affecting America as a whole. We need to train and hire 3.4 million skilled workers in the next 10 years. And the demand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) workers alone is expected to grow by 14 percent by 2024. We could stew and worry and be consumed by the magnitude of this problem, but I’d rather start focusing on the solution. 

In my opinion, these individuals right here are the answer.

And there are a lot of Des Moines business leaders who agree with me. That’s why we all teamed up to form the Skilled Trades Alliance. Working to raise awareness around the need for skilled workers and the benefits a career in the trades can offer, the Skilled Trades Alliance is comprised of representatives from various industries including homebuilding, concrete, welding, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and more. In partnership with Central Campus and Des Moines Public Schools, we’re hoping to bring real world experience to the next generation of workers.

One of the first initiatives presented by the Alliance was a week-long Skilled Trades Camp held in June. Campers signed up to spend each day learning about a different trade from construction to carpentry. The only pre-requisites were a good attitude and a willingness to participate and learn.

While people often talk about how important it is to expose high school students to a possible skilled trades career, we think the conversation needs to start even earlier than that. That’s why our campers were students entering the eighth or ninth grade. The earlier young people are introduced to jobs in skilled work, the more time they have to consider pursuing it as a career path.

Bell Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., was happy to host five different groups of campers throughout the week. Campers got to learn about HVAC equipment and our apprenticeship program as well as visit an actual construction site to see how all the trades work together to accomplish a common goal. We think the campers learned a lot from the experience, and I know the Bell Brothers team came away with some valuable lessons as well.

So, yes, we’re staring a big challenge in the face. The consequences of a shrinking workforce are rapidly approaching. But what a great opportunity to educate our kids about the many advantages that come with a career in the trades — advantages like higher average salaries, no college debt, on-the-job training, and working within a much-need industry for a company that is eager to invest in young people and help them realize their full potential.

The Skilled Trades Alliance is just getting started. We have big plans for the future and for how we’re going to involve Iowa’s youth in these growing industries. Stay up to date on our efforts by following the Bell Brothers Facebook page as well as the Central Campus Facebook page.