Skip to main content

Help Wanted: Trends and Strategies for Iowa’s Workforce

Posted on November 29, 2023 in Healthy Living

Midwest employers are facing workforce shortages and struggling to hire talent. Read insights and st

Employers across Iowa and the Midwest face a challenging reality today: hiring and retaining a workforce is hard. According to Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa’s unemployment rate is 3.0%, a reasonably shallow labor pool. However, with more than 65,000 current job openings across the state, employers face fierce competition as they strain and stress to fill positions.

In the most recent session of The Green Room, Delta Dental of Iowa’s virtual conversation series for Iowa business leaders, we discussed workforce trends and strategies. Our conversation explored how Midwest population and growth trends have created labor challenges and how employers need to re-assess their recruitment strategies to tap into underutilized workforce segments. 

The discussion was hosted by Delta Dental of Iowa co-interim CEO April Schmaltz and guest speaker Dr. Ron Cox from Midwest Workforce Strategies. Dr. Cox is a former aerospace engineering professor and C-level executive who helps organizations understand their workforce challenges and design plans to grow their labor force.

First, Dr. Cox presented data and research showing the challenges facing the Midwest labor force. These challenges include slow population growth, declining immigration, high labor force participation, low unemployment, and a slowing birth rate. Employers will need to get creative to find a solution to Iowa’s labor concerns, or “turn 90 degrees,” as Dr. Cox says.

To find new labor force sectors that might be areas of opportunity for your business, Dr. Cox recommends breaking things down into many smaller workforce solutions. Some of these categories include:

  • Automation
  • Retention
  • Individuals 65-75 years old
  • Part-time workers
  • Individuals recently incarcerated
  • Remote workers
  • Young adults in apprenticeship programs
  • Individuals with disabilities 

From here, it’s important to identify which solutions may work for your organization and the potential of each one. Dr. Cox defines this as the Workforce Vector. Organizations can innovate and continuously improve recruitment efforts by using this method of identifying labor pockets.

April mentioned that the Delta Dental of Iowa team has worked with Dr. Cox to outline a top-down strategy for the labor force. Dr. Cox recommended a four-step plan that organizations can follow when addressing their workforce challenges:

  1. Identify a workforce vision
  2. Define a strategy to achieve it
  3. Solve the root cause/operational concerns
  4. Create marketing to promote

Leaders often go directly toward step four when trying to recruit. They will over-market positions in the hopes of attracting talent. But, labor force concerns will not be solved by HR or marketing. Solving a labor force shortage will take strategic insight and direction from the top levels of the organization.

Employers have shifted their views as the Midwest returns to employment levels nearing five years ago (pre-COVID). For example, more companies offer part-time roles, pay for training, and hire employees over 65.

And what about AI? IBM is predicting that technology could replace roughly 7,800 jobs at their company. But, in the Midwest, could AI help people become more productive and lessen labor shortages? It’s important to remember that the evolution of technology is not new — it’s been happening for thousands of years. And while some people may lose their jobs due to AI, others may benefit from the technology.

We thank Dr. Cox for joining us in The Green Room and sharing his insights on the labor force. We invite you to watch the session replay to learn more.