Council Bluffs school district’s workforce training program gets visit from state

Council Bluffs Public Schools is serving as a model in the state of Iowa's vision for job training programs in its high schools.
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 4:52 PM CDT
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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (WOWT) - Iowa state officials, educators, employers and students are all together to help with a fact-finding mission at Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs.

State officials want to check out the hands-on training underway in the district that’s been going on for years through the Tradeworks Academy.

“We’ve come to Council Bluffs because the Council Bluffs schools have distinguished themselves statewide, probably nationally, for pioneering some work-based learning for their students,” said Jeff Weld with the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

These students are taking their first steps in the trades, working to earn their safety certificates in order to work in carpentry, auto mechanics, welding, or other trades.

TJ senior Jaida Finley was in the program, has earned her welding certificate, and is already working.

“I apprenticed at Lozier through the end of my junior year, and then all summer I worked full-time, and now I’m working at Lozier but with my school schedule for my senior year,” Finley said.

When she graduates from high school, she has a job waiting for her.

“I’m making money right now, and once I graduate, I’ll have no debt,” Finley said. “I’ll have lots of savings with nothing to pay.”

The pathway program has grown -- now, there are several different pathways students can choose from, like computer science and nursing. Employers at today’s fact-finding mission say there’s also a shortage of workers in the nursing field.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had issues with maintaining, hiring and retaining workers,” said Jordan Tjaden with Midlands Living Center. “It’s a very difficult field to be in in the first place.”

Tjaden works for the Council Bluffs skilled nursing facility. He says they’ve already hired some people in the program.

“We’re perfectly fine with spending the money to get them certified,” Tjaden said. “Even if they don’t stay with us for six months, it adds one more can to the workforce pipeline.”

That’s the kind of success Iowa state officials hope to duplicate for other students around the state.

“They’re likely to stay here in Iowa. We won’t suffer quite the brain drain we suffer as a state if we bring kids up in an atmosphere of community, in connection and collaboration with the world of work, with employers, with businesses, with industry.”

An early college academy is also offered, where students can earn their associate’s degree and a high school diploma simultaneously through Iowa Western Community College.