Educational institutions preparing students for jobs of future

By Angela Holmes and Dave DeWitte

Keeping up with the changing world of work and technology is high on the list of priorities for higher education in the Corridor.

The demand is certainly there. For example, Cedar Rapids-based Geonetric, which develops health care websites and other web-based services, is in the market these days for “scrum masters” to participate in its agile project management teams.

“That role is critically important,” CEO Eric Engleman said. “We undervalued it, and we’re paying the price.” He explained that scrum masters anticipate and identify impediments to the project, ensuring they are removed before the project becomes delayed.

Already, Geonetric is working with Kirkwood Community College to develop a training program to supply the need. As Geonetric grows, Mr. Engleman sees it needing more positions with names like “project owner” and “scrum master” that require highly specific skillsets.

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo works with advisory boards and business community partners to stay current with what businesses need now and in the future, according to President Linda Allen.

“We continually scan the horizons for needs of businesses,” Ms. Allen said. “We have to train for future jobs.”

The Corridor Business Journal asked area educational institutions about some of the programs they have developed to prepare for “jobs of the future,” and here is some of what we found.

Crunching the numbers

Business analytics, a new undergraduate major in the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, is hot, according to Tippie College of Business Dean Sarah Fisher Gardial. She said the explosion in business data has created vast opportunities for businesses that they are anxious to exploit.

“When I talk to businesses about it, nine times out of 10 they say, ‘when can I hire one of the graduates?’ or ‘Can I hire one for an intern this summer?’” Ms. Gardial noted.

Occupations for business analytics grads include logisticians, market analysts and wholesale buyers.

Informatics is another new major in the UI Computer Science Department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, according to Angie McKie of the UI’s Pomerantz Career Center. The field focuses on the application of algorithmic techniques and computing power to the acquisition and manipulation of data, in order to extract new knowledge. The degree can lead to jobs ranging from business analyst to technical writer.

Applying the science

Automation and instrumentation technology, a new applied science degree program at Kirkwood Community College, has the undivided attention of Corridor manufacturers, particularly those engaged in advanced manufacturing, according to Jeff Mitchell, dean of industrial technology.

He said students learn to troubleshoot and fix the four components of manufacturing systems that have fall under the heading of “mechatronics” – electricity, mechanical drive systems, electronics/microprocessors and communication systems.

Area manufacturers were so enthusiastic that they donated much of the $2 million plus in equipment needed to set up a new lab for the program, partly because breakdowns in their high-rate production systems can become costly if they are not diagnosed and repaired immediately.

Another addition to Kirkwood’s applied science programming is energy production and distribution technology, which provides the skills needed to enter growing career fields in renewable energy, such as wind turbine technicians and photovoltaic system installers.

Mr. Mitchell expects photovoltaics to create more demand than Iowa’s wind power industry in the coming years, because the declining costs of installing PV systems to generate power from the sun are making them a wise investment for many electric users.

Manufacturing the future

The University of Northern Iowa’s Metal Casting Center manages a 3-D printer – the largest of its kind available in North America – in the Cedar Valley TechWorks building in Waterloo. The printer fabricates on-demand molds for cast components.

“This technology allows us to be on the cutting edge,” said Jerry Theil, director of UNI’s Metal Casting Center.

The technology is preparing students for careers in the emerging field of advanced manufacturing, which is having trouble filling positions with qualified people, Mr. Theil said.

Since being installed last October, the printer has served various manufacturing companies, including John Deere in Waterloo and Moline, Ill.; Caterpillar in Peoria, Ill.; Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella; Viking Pump in Cedar Falls; and Emerson Process Management in Marshalltown.

Hawkeye Community College, which has its own space in the TechWorks building, is entering a partnership with UNI to develop a metal matrix composite manufacturing technician program based on basic computer numerical control (CNC) and welding skills. The program would teach students how to work with experimental metals.

“Light metals are the future of manufacturing,” Ms. Allen said. “There are businesses across Iowa that are very interested in this.”

Hawkeye is in the process of determining equipment needs and putting curriculum together to send it to the Department of Education. The college is hoping to get the program up and running by this fall, Ms Allen said.

Another program in the exploratory stages at Hawkeye Community College is a manufacturing engineering technology program, which would be built on engineering and industrial tech core skills. The associate’s degree would help graduates troubleshoot, recognize deficiencies and ultimately decide whether or not to implement a new technology.

While manufacturing salaries overall are good – typically starting at $50,000 and up – students with these new degrees could receive substantially higher pay due to the expanded skills they provide, Ms. Allen said.