“What keeps you up at night?” This is the question I ask when conversing with business owners and Chamber members. The number one answer across the entire county is workforce. Our business owners are collectively facing barriers recruiting and retaining employees throughout Story County.
This doesn’t surprise me. With a 2% unemployment rate and more than 1,600 jobs openings, we have an extreme shortage of eligible workers in our county. So much so, it is the number one priority we are striving to address on our new strategic plan, A Bold Vision, which we rolled out in January of this year. Lack of employees is just one piece of the puzzle; however, we have found through research completed by the Iowa Women’s Foundation and our annual Business Retention and Expansion visits with area companies that it’s not simply a lack of people in our community, rather it’s a growing need for childcare.
When parents can’t fill the childcare need for their children, they find it hard to justify working in the community. Oftentimes, when childcare is too expensive or hard to come by, someone in the family stays home to care for the children during the day, removing them from the workforce. We have found that these caregivers want to work in the community but don’t have the essential care for their children during the day. This is one of many target audiences we have been working to advocate on behalf of at the Ames Chamber of Commerce.
On a state level, we are supporting the passage of eight active pieces of legislation related to improving childcare. Each of these address a specific need within the childcare issue, such as affordability, accessibility, and on-site facility expansions. If passed, these bills will ensure childcare is adequately addressed and quality childcare is provided to all who need it, making Iowa as a whole a more family-friendly place to work and live. When the issues of how your children will be cared for while you are at work is covered and no longer an issue, quality of life, quality of place, and quality of work will only increase.
On a local level, we have found that not only is childcare expensive, it’s increasingly lacking in our community, which is why it is so hard to come by. We are supporting the Child Care Ready program developed by Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral. This program held an orientation last week at the Ames Public Library for anyone interested in becoming a professional childcare provider. The Ames Chamber of Commerce is a proud sponsor of this two-week program that includes free training and technical assistance on the multitude of career pathways available within the childcare industry, navigating the Department of Human Services employment process, and more. When those who want to work in childcare are able to access the resources and trainings needed to do so, then we can begin to provide a range of opportunities for children of all ages, allowing parents and guardians the opportunity to work in their preferred fields.
These are only a couple of the ways we have worked to address the growing need of childcare in our community. As the year continues, we will continue to advocate for more programming, training, and opportunities to grow our county’s workforce. As many more programs and bills appear to support these efforts, we will be the champions advocating for their success, and I hope you will join me in supporting these efforts.