The From Programs to System Change series highlights community college programs and innovations that were initially funded through the U.S. Department of Labor’s TAACCCT program, but sustained beyond the life of the grant and scaled for greater reach, through changes to systems within colleges, between colleges and partnering organizations, and across colleges within a state.

In 2012, the 15 Iowa community college districts joined forces to form the I-AM Round 2 TAACCCT consortium, with the goal of building a talent pipeline for Iowa’s advanced manufacturing sector. The consortium’s primary objective was to meet the needs of employers seeking skilled workers. To do that effectively, it needed to find a way to coordinate the community colleges’ employer engagement efforts. A number of schools had forged partnerships with businesses on their own, but they determined that a unified approach would be more effective. Therefore, the I-AM consortium and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) launched a statewide initiative called Elevate Iowa, which established a sector approach to working with employers in advanced manufacturing. Today, Elevate Iowa continues to support statewide collaboration among employers and colleges to boost the supply of workers available to fill advanced manufacturing jobs.

This profile describes how Iowa’s 15 community colleges successfully adopted a collective approach to employer engagement. By doing so, they built a system for employer engagement, which was the mechanism for sustaining and scaling the initial programmatic work of each of the colleges prior to I-AM. It explains how they worked together via the I-AM consortium and focused on the state’s advanced manufacturing sector, ultimately bringing about systemic change in Iowa’s approach to meeting its workforce needs by following these three steps:

  1. Build a sector partnership among Iowa’s community colleges and employers in advanced manufacturing.
  2. Deepen engagement and leadership buy-in among community colleges and employers.
  3. Elevate the visibility of the advanced manufacturing sector.