Open untapped worker pipelines

Joseph Jones | Executive Director, Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement

The Idea: Create a consortium to pool financial and human capital from across the Des Moines area to create supports necessary for hiring, training and retaining nontraditional candidates such as refugees, people with disabilities and those with criminal records.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 49-year low of 3.7 percent in October. In Greater Des Moines, it hovers even lower, at about 2.5 percent. 

We are well past the point of full employment, meaning there are more jobs available than people looking for work. However, there are still individuals who are eager to fill those positions and qualified to do the work, even if they don’t look like traditional candidates. 

Greater Des Moines would benefit greatly from addressing current barriers to hiring nontraditional candidates such as immigrants and refugees, those who’ve been convicted of crimes, and people with disabilities. This could be accomplished through a consortium made up of private businesses and nonprofit agencies specializing in disability, immigration or workforce issues. 

The objective of the consortium would be to pool financial and human capital from across the Des Moines area to create supports necessary for hiring, training and retaining nontraditional candidates. Supports might include training programs for human resource professionals, physical space assessments or best practices in recruitment. These would be shaped through creative synthesis between business leaders and human service agencies with intimate knowledge of these populations.         

Seeing past some of the perceived barriers to employment for these groups and identifying what accommodations are necessary to help them succeed can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are businesses and other organizations already leading the way with innovative practices that can be replicated. 

In addition, this program could work with local governments to address additional potential barriers such as transportation and child care. 

The partnerships created in this process are mutually beneficial – providing businesses with much needed employees and helping nonprofit and nongovernment organizations achieve their goals of helping these populations find employment and greater independence. 

What’s more, time and again businesses report that their products and services improve as their workforce becomes more diverse. It makes sense; people with different backgrounds and life experiences bring with them an entirely new perspective, one that may not have been considered in the past. 

In Iowa, we’ve always prided ourselves on being a great place to live, work and raise a family, and with good reason. Did you know that we’ve been sending the message to the country and the world that we welcome bright, hardworking and energetic men and women of all ages and every background to join us in building our future, literally, for centuries?

In 1870, the Iowa General Assembly appropriated funds for the printing of a handbook called “Iowa: The Home for Immigrants.” They printed 65,000 copies in five languages and distributed them in the Eastern United States and across Europe, inviting people to come and settle in Iowa.

These handbooks bragged about our literate population and our strong education system – our public and private schools, colleges and universities.

As you know, Iowa has a proud and demonstrated history of taking the road toward progress and innovation. 

We refused to allow escaped slaves to be returned to servitude. We were the first state to allow women to practice law. We integrated our schools 125 years ago, nearly a century before the Brown v. Board decision. And we have provided a safe home and bright future to tens of thousands of refugees. It only makes sense that Central Iowa lead the way on inclusion, too. >