A Snapshot of Employer Interest in Early Education in Iowa
The current unemployment rate in Iowa is 2.5%, and there are currently 40,000 people on unemployment and 60,000 job openings. As historically low unemployment continues, employers are always looking for opportunities to recruit more workers and also to retain their existing workforce.
Since 1903, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) has served as the voice of more than 1,500 businesses and 330,000 employees in the state of Iowa. Similar to many state chambers, ABI has heard from members for the last five years that employers need more people in their workforce with the right skills.
To solve this challenge, Iowa business leaders have increased wages, offered flexible work environments where possible, and expanded benefits. More recently, one of those benefits is childcare.
Iowa has a shortage of early childhood education offerings, especially in our rural areas. But just because there is a shortage doesn’t mean there aren’t some great solutions out there. Statewide leaders, legislators, and employers are regularly asking us for early childhood education and childcare best practices, so recently we’ve started collecting them.
We commissioned a short survey of 120 human resource professionals, CEOs, COOs, and educational leaders from manufacturing to financial services across the state. We used this survey to get a baseline on the importance of the issue, how many employers are currently offering childcare either onsite or through some financial support mechanisms, and if any employers offer flexible working environments for employees who have children.
Although the response rate was not 100%, there was an overwhelming interest in this issue.
- We discovered that some large employers offer onsite day care. Those employers are typically in larger metropolitan areas with enough employees to sustain the day care without needing families with children outside of the company to participate. However, most do allow non-employees to sign their children up for care if there are openings.
- Some large employers select to manage the day care on their own, and those day care center employees get the same benefits of the full-time company employees, which helps address some of the challenges we see in the childcare workforce sector.
- Across the country there is a significant shortage of childcare outside of the traditional hours of 8 am-5 pm. For companies that have multiple shifts where both parents work, the need for care during nontraditional hours means that both families and employers haven't found a good solution to meeting the childcare needs.
- Many rural employers are looking for solutions to partner with other businesses in the area so they too can offer childcare.
- Many businesses, although not directly, indirectly financially support childcare in their communities. Employers donate to fundraisers at childcare centers to upgrade equipment or improve infrastructure.
ABI plans to work with legislators and the governor to help support voluntary efforts for more childcare offerings in Iowa. We have already met with legislators to stress the importance of this topic, share ways to strengthen the childcare workforce, and discuss how childcare plays a crucial role in strengthening the workforce of other industries.
Through this process, resources and best practices from other states and policies at the federal level have been instrumental as we drum up support for our early education and care efforts. Being able to share data and pro-growth policies for employers that include options for early childhood education that are progressing in neighboring states makes a significant impact in our conversations.