A great example of creating the future workforce and work-based learning

The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council facilitates and supports hundreds of STEM programs and activities across our state every year, many of which embody the method of work-based learning. Work-based learning connects businesses and education institutions by providing students the opportunity to train in the workplace while completing relevant work in the classroom. Work-based learning is proven to better equip students for the workforce, while exposing them to multiple paths and career options.

STEM is a vital economic development advantage for quality jobs grown in Iowa, starting in the classroom and transforming our future workforce. Work-based learning is setting Iowa apart from other state education programs, as we continue to build awareness through conferences like the recent Governor’s 2018 Future Ready Iowa Summit at the beginning of April. The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council set up guidelines for what an ideal school and business partnership might look like, enlisting corporate partners to invest in the form of time, talent or treasure.

Accumold Inc. is a perfect example of this STEM partnership that is paving the way for so many other businesses in Iowa. Roger Hargens, CEO of Accumold and co-chair of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, and Grace Swanson, VP of Human Capital at Accumold and Vice Chair of the Future Ready Iowa’s credentialing task force, have set a standard for corporate STEM partnerships with their Accumold Scholarship Program, working closely with Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

The Accumold Scholarship Program was developed between Accumold and DMACC in 2006. The college was experiencing a decrease in enrollment and Accumold was having a challenging time finding qualified machinists in Tool and Die to fill vacancies. The Accumold Scholarship Program was created, allowing DMACC students to work part-time at Accumold while attending school in the Tool and Die program and earning credits towards a degree. These scholars are matched with mentors within the company and given the opportunity to “learn from the bottom up” as Grace Swanson describes it.

Since 2006, 56 scholars have started the program and Accumold has seen a 70-percent retention rate in scholars. The scholarship has expanded to include two new programs, Robotics and Control Systems and Electro-Mechanical Technologies. The current 2017-18 class has 10 scholars, which is the largest class to date.

While the Accumold Scholarship Program elevates and supports Iowa students, it also provides a service to Accumold and efficiently funnels the career recruitment process. Internal buy-in was established early on for the implementation of the Scholarship Program. In fact, many of the initial school visits and tours were set up by the employees themselves, reaching out to their neighbors, spouses and family members who are teachers and professors. The employees and mentors at Accumold have a mutual respect and understanding of the value of this program for the future of their company.

The Scholarship Program isn’t the only way that Accumold is reaching students for work-based learning. Accumold participates in career days at elementary schools to demonstrate molding using Play-Doh to plant the seed early for the DMACC Scholarship Program. They also offer an outreach program at a senior citizen community in Ankeny, in an effort to reach their grandchildren and energize multiple generations about the concept of STEM learning. Accumold is heavily involved with the Ankeny Economic Development Group (EDG), advocating for school/business partnerships, and taking in teacher interns both through the Ankeny EDG and the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Teacher Externship Program. Accumold has Project Lead the Way classes brought into their facility, science fairs across the state, voices on the Future Ready Iowa Taskforce and much more.

Accumold realized a long time ago they would have to build their own workforce and pushed work-based learning efforts full-speed ahead. Accumold is paving the way for many other Iowa businesses and helping to increase student interest in STEM careers and fill our state’s job pipeline.