Iowa faces the most acute workforce shortage in the history of our state, and demographic trends point to a worsening talent crisis in the years ahead. Employers struggle to find qualified candidates to meet the demands of our growing economy.
A new proposal in the legislature, led by House Judiciary Chair Steve Holt, House Public Safety Chair Phil Thompson, and Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Zaun, offers an innovative solution. The idea is simple: More than 28,000 Iowans are on probation. By incentivizing them to seek and maintain employment, grow their marketable skills and remain law-abiding, we can tap into a pool of highly-motivated job seekers while keeping our communities safe.
Iowa has more than 70,000 unfilled jobs, with openings far exceeding our unemployed residents. Baby boomers are retiring by the thousands each year. Our labor force participation rate has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Many Iowans have dropped out of the labor force altogether, including people with criminal convictions who despair of finding a job due to the stigma of their past. If our economy is to prosper, we can no longer afford to leave these Iowans on the sidelines.
House File 349 and Senate Study Bill 1004 provides an opportunity for Iowans to shorten their probation terms by maintaining full-time employment: a powerful incentive to overcome barriers and return to the workforce. The bill also includes incentives for those on probation to enhance their skills by earning a GED, associate’s degree, college degree, or vocational certification.
I’m proud to be a member of the Iowans United for Opportunity, a group of concerned business leaders, community-based organizations, faith-based groups and others who have united to endorse these proposals and urge our elected leaders to pass them into law.
Nearly ten years ago, I left my corporate career in the staffing and recruiting industry to help create opportunities for jobseekers who face employment barriers including criminal histories and disabilities. People who triumph over such challenges are not only highly qualified employees, but frequently they demonstrate remarkable work ethic and loyalty. Our nonprofit captures the stories of Iowans who overcome their pasts to make a powerful contribution to our workforce.
Iowans believe in second chances. These proposals will encourage more of our fellow citizens to enjoy the freedom and dignity that comes with financial independence and participation in the American Dream.