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The economic hardships of the last 18 months revealed vulnerabilities in countless industries across the country, leaving workers searching for a more stable career with better pay and a well-rounded work-life balance. But that’s often easier said than done. Many adults face challenges and concerns that make it difficult to go back to school for more education. What career should I pursue? Can I realistically obtain a job in that field at my age? Will my new career provide for my family and me? Can I afford to pay for an education, and will I have time to work until it’s complete? However daunting a life-altering career change can be, MedCerts and Goodwill of the Heartland are giving Iowa residents a shot at something different – for free. MedCerts offers courses and certifications in health care, information technology and professional development through fully online training. Thanks to the partnership with Goodwill of the Heartland — an organization that helps individuals build functional life skills, get career advice, and earn economic independence — beginning at the end of last year, Iowa residents can enroll in classes for free. “Gov. Reynolds committed some of the CARES Act money from the federal government and created an opportunity through the Future Ready Iowa initiative,” said Amy Winslow, career services and development manager for Goodwill of the Heartland. According to their website, the Future Ready Iowa Initiative connects Iowans to the education and training required for good-paying jobs and careers to improve people’s lives. Goodwill received $250,000 from the state and promptly paid for the MedCerts tuition for 45 students. In addition to funding tuition rates for the students via the grant money, Goodwill provides local support and a touchpoint for students who’d otherwise work exclusively online, says MedCerts National Director of Workforce Development Sandy Mead. The program’s overall flexibility lends itself to busy adults who must balance full-time jobs and providing for a family while adjusting to a career change. “The main reason I enrolled in this program was to change my career, and I was keen to learn and polish my existing IT knowledge,” said Muhammad Murad Siddiqui, a student who completed the IT Certification Program, was awarded the MedCerts School Certificate, and is looking to complete more certifications. “People are now looking at me as a professional in the field.” Completing the IT certification through MedCerts gave Mr. Siddiqui the rare flexibility to upskill on his schedule, as he needed to manage his time between studying and working six days a week to support his family. There were 45 participants in this program as a result of the MedCerts/Goodwill partnership; 14 were based in the Corridor. So far, 82% of students have completed their coursework, said Ms. Winslow, with nearly all those students having completed at least one credential. Ten participants started a new job or achieved a promotion since bolstering their skills. Two students are creating their own businesses with the knowledge gained from these courses, both in the medical billing and coding space. The businesses will stay local to Iowa, with one company based in the Quad Cities and the other in Fort Madison. “What we heard from people last winter was that they wanted to have some job security,” said Ms. Winslow. “They felt pretty vulnerable with the pandemic. So they were attracted to becoming qualified candidates for jobs in high demand, such as a career in health care. That’s a great career pathway to keep advancing.” These credentials aren’t solely designed for people looking to switch careers. Enrolling in a course can act as a “stackable skill” on a current career that could lead to a wage increase, said Ms. Mead. Since the sticker price was free for program participants, enrollees had little to lose. Exactly 50% of the participants consider themselves a person of color, and 60% of participants are female. Most are parents (many of whom are single parents), while a few others have disabilities. Each participant shared a few common traits: An active interest in remote work due to challenges stemming from COVID-19 and an overwhelming desire to learn. “One gentleman in the Corridor area had two part-time jobs due to COVID,” said Ms. Winslow. “He was laid off, and then, because of the coursework, he got a great job making $21 an hour doing IT support. He’s already gotten a promotion, and he’s making more than that now.” The next class of IT Support Professionals is graduating in October, meaning there are more job-ready candidates for businesses to contact soon. “The actual school program was very organized and easy to learn with the extensive course content,” said Mr. Siddiqui. “I’d definitely recommend MedCerts to my friends and colleagues.”