Iowa City schools to offer program to increase trade jobs

The program teaches students real-life skills in architecture, construction, and engineering.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa City Community School District teacher John Reynolds, back, and a student, front, lead a demonstration of what ACE classes look like at Iowa City High School in Iowa City on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. City High reinstated ACE programs this year after a 12 year absence.

Virginia Russell, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District high school students who enroll in the newly reinstated Architecture, Construction, and Engineering program after its 12-year abscence get hands-on learning experience — outside of the classroom.

Students take class courses to do lab work and then move to real job sites to apply learned skills, John Reynolds, Iowa City West High School and Iowa City High School industrial technology teacher, said.

“Let’s say how to construct a wall, use tools safely, learning about the chronological steps in building, learning how to read a print, learning about the professions,” Reynolds said.

Classes were previously only offered at Liberty High School and Iowa City West High School because they both had shops, which are spaces where students work physically and construct various materials.

Iowa City High School did not offer classes due in part to the City High School shop being discontinued, Reynolds said. The City High School workshop was replaced with the Kirkwood Regional Center, which offers dual credit for high school students who are enrolled in the ACE Program.

Ultimately, the workshop was reinstated for equity purposes, Reynolds said.

“It was really difficult to create a feeder system to send students to another program where they really never had a chance to really try it at their home school,” he said.

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The district revived the program because of the rising need for skilled trade jobs in the workforce, he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 313,700 trade jobs in Iowa in April 2022. In an Iowa Workforce needs assessment released in 2019, construction and manufacturing jobs had a 3.3 percent vacancy.

What is most important, Reynolds said, is for students to acquire the necessary skills to set themselves up for opportunities, whether that is through higher education or the workforce.

“I don’t want anyone to think that once you get a skilled trade, you’re just done,” he said. “The skill is maybe the hub of the wheel, and all the spokes are your potential careers, but the skill can always be one that you fall back on.”

During the 2023 academic year, the program will offer a new yearlong new where all district high school students who take the prerequisite courses will build a house together.

“You know, kind of get our feet under us and get the program established and really start to create a nice continuity of courses,” Reynolds said.

Micah Casper, a Liberty High School industrial technology teacher, teaches in the ACE program. For him, the program is important because it automatically qualifies students with career credentials and students become employable immediately after they graduate.

“They can come out of high school debt-free or come out of apprenticeship programs, two-year colleges debt-free, a great start making money, or being small business owners if they want to get into construction, trade, automotive welding material process trade,” Casper said.

He said he hopes the program will spur more programs and initiatives in industrial technology and highlight the industry. Before that happens, Casper said the district needs to get more teachers.

Casper is currently the only industrial technology teacher at Liberty High School.

“It has a bright future, but we just need to offer more programs,” he said. That’s all there is for it.”