Iowa Western short-term continuing education programs help jump-start new careers

Sheri Splichal, continuing education coordinator, holds up a flier on a combination high school equivalency and welding certificate program offered by Iowa Western Community College during an employee meeting about unemployment options at the Council Bluffs Kmart, 2803 E. Kanesville Blvd., on Dec. 5, 2018. (Photo by Scott Stewart/Iowa Western Community College)

Residents across southwest Iowa are receiving Iowa Western Community College’s continuing education catalog in the mail early this month.

Anyone looking for a job, looking to make a career change or just learn a new skill could benefit from short-term programs at the college.

“The majority focus of what we do is really career enhancement,” said Lisa Walker, director of continuing education at Iowa Western.

Denise Norman, continuing education coordinator, said the catalog covers classes starting soon through August. The time commitments can be as little as one hour to a few months. A limited selection of personal development classes are offered by Iowa Western, too, but most are targeting the needs of employers in the seven-county region served by the community college.

The focus on training for jobs that exist and are growing in the area is part of what sets Iowa Western apart for those looking to take the next step toward a future career. That focus could be helpful to employees of the Council Bluffs Kmart, which is closing permanently effective Jan. 13.

The store is laying off 46 employees, according to a notice filed with Iowa Workforce Development. Ten of those employees – including one with more than 40 years with the company and several with more than 30 years – participated in a Dec. 5 meeting to learn about benefits offered to displaced workers under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA.

Cindy Wetterlind is a workforce specialist for Iowa Western who is based out of the IowaWorks office at the Omni Center in Council Bluffs. She said displaced employees – including former Kmart employees – who meet eligibility criteria for WIOA can receive tuition assistance for continuing education courses, a certification program or a two-year degree program.

Through the WIOA funding, Wetterlind said she can also help connect displaced employees to on-the-job training, paid work experiences and other opportunities that augment Iowa Western’s continuing education programs.

“We’re always going to encourage anyone to come to the IowaWorks office,” Wetterlind said. “As they talk to individuals, they are going to refer them.”

Many of the options available to Kmart employees are available to others in the community, too.

Rachel Jensen, Iowa Western’s Education 2 Employment coordinator, said career preparation program ranging from two weeks to six months offer opportunities to go into a new career. Pathways include business and information technology, education, health occupations and manufacturing.

“We fund short-term certificate training programs that put you straight into the workforce,” Jensen said.

Iowa Western also offers a high school equivalence diploma program, with classes meeting in Council Bluffs in daytime and evening hours as well as through self-directed learning. HiSET classes are also offered at the college’s regional centers in Atlantic, Clarinda, Harlan and Shenandoah.

Sheri Splichal, continuing education coordinator for health programs, said students who do externships – which are experiential learning opportunities similar to a short internship, such as those offered to students through Iowa Western’s pharmacy tech program – often quickly find jobs.

“Anyone can take these programs,” Splichal said. “There’s assistance for funding based on your situation and being an Iowa resident.”

The programs are designed for high-demand industries, including health care professionals, welders and agricultural technology workers, Walker said. Most of the programs are offered in Council Bluffs, but more classes are being made available at regional centers – expanding access to those opportunities.

Re-entering the workforce can be challenging, too. That’s why Iowa Western and IowaWorks reached out to Kmart employees to make sure they understood some of the opportunities available to them.

Deb McCarthy, the human resources manager for the Council Bluffs Kmart, said she’s never had to make a resume – even though she’s seen her fair share of them. She said she walked in and was hired at an on-the-spot interview 31 years ago, and she went on to interview prospective employees at the store.

“Now, I’m going to be the one sitting there having questions directed at me,” McCarthy said. “At least I should have some really good examples of what not to do during the interview.”

Scott Stewart is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. This article was prepared on behalf of Iowa Western Community College’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development.

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