More than 335 job seekers attended a two-day job fair in Newton last month, as Iowa Workforce Development and two IowaWORKS offices joined forces to help find new careers for factory workers losing their jobs at TPI Composites.
The event was so successful that it sparked a follow-up event earlier this week.
Work on the December event actually began in October, when TPI Composites, a manufacturer of wind blade turbines, announced that it would suspend production at its Newton plant at the end of 2021. Iowa law requires that companies with more than 25 employees give the state 30 days’ notice if the firm plans to lay off 25 or more people.
Wendy Greenman, IWD chief of the bureau that receives these WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) letters, said the state responds quickly to such notices to assess worker needs and begin reemployment services quickly. In TPI’s case, a meeting with company leaders was later followed by a total of 11 meetings between impacted factory workers and representatives from the IowaWORKS offices in Des Moines and Marshalltown.
IowaWORKS advisors helped TPI employees understand the wide variety of services that are available through IowaWORKS, from job training and resume coaching to educational programs and vocational rehabilitation. Meetings included information about a variety of services across multiple programs, including details about the availability of child care and food assistance through the Iowa Department of Human Services.
Since Newton draws workers from both the Marshalltown and Des Moines areas, advisors at both offices helped plan the job fair, which was held on the Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus. Lacie Westendorf, an IowaWORKS workforce program coordinator who also oversaw the project from her office in Waterloo, said team members received an overwhelming response from employers who were anxious to participate in the job fair.
Many Iowa companies have been struggling for months with finding enough skilled workers to cover all the shifts they need to fill, Westendorf said. That makes experienced factory workers a valuable resource to pursue.
In Newton, demand was so higher from employers seeking to participate in the job fair that the event was split into three separate sessions, with roughly 45 employers attending each.
“Our employers were more than happy with the event,” she said. “Many of them said they thought it was the best group of people they’ve seen in a long time. The workers came in prepared, and they asked very good questions.”
“I realistically think we could have had a weeklong event, two sessions a day, and still had plenty of employers to fill it,” Westendorf said.
IowaWORKS team members held a virtual job fair on January 13 to follow up on the December event. For more information about IowaWORKS hiring events, visit www.IowaWorks.gov.